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Aircraft technology helps diagnose artificial hip, knee problems

KINGSTON, R.I. (February 20, 2003) To assess the wear and tear on jet engine parts, mechanics used an old technology called ferrography to run the aircraft's lubricating fluid through a magnetic device to separate out metal shavings and other ferrous engine debris. A University of Rhode Island researcher uses a similar process to assess the wear and tear on artificial hip and knee joints so patients can reduce the number of follow-up surgeries they must undergo or reduce the time spent in revision surgery.

Donna Meyer, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, anticipates using her research to create a "wear atlas" that can be used by orthopedic surgeons as a diagnostic tool. She said the atlas could be used to help identify the potential problems that patients are having with their implants prior to revision surgery.

Most artificial hips consist of a polyethylene socket and metal ball or metal-on-metal combinations that are connected to adjoining bones with screws or cement. Total knee replacements are made of similar materials. Over time as the ball, socket and bone rub against each other, tiny debris is produced and settles between the bone and the implant interface, discouraging the much needed growth of bone around the prosthesis. This contributes to the loosening and separation of the interface, which necessitates revision surgery to repair it.

"Polyethylene wear debris can be a significant problem for patients because a loosened joint can cause great discomfort," said Meyer, a Cranston resident. "If we can determine the number and size of wear debris contained in a patient's synovial fluid, and also look at the ratio of polyethylene to other constituents like metal, bone, and cement particles, we can create a tool to assist in diagnosing the problem with the implant before surgery is necessary. Ultimately we would like to minimize the number of revision surgeries that patients face, or at least minimize the amount of ti
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Contact: Todd McLeish
tmcleish@uri.edu
401-874-7892
University of Rhode Island
20-Feb-2003


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