It’s a Joint Effort

Medical implant devices (MIDs) have been used widely for more than 40 years, and it is estimated that 8 to 10 percent of Americans (20-25 million people) currently have such a device. Although implant devices produce great benefits, sometimes MIDs must be removed or replaced. They are in a continual state of development to increase their performance and extend their useful lifespan. Long-term data on the behavior of implanted devices and host response are essential inputs to the development process, yet there are few systematic programs for the retrieval and analysis of implants in the USA.

Retrieval and analysis of implants benefits patients, as this method leads to implant design. Implants have a minimum lifespan of three months, penetrate living tissue, have a physiologic interaction and are retrievable. A number of barriers exist to establishing an implant retrieval program. Major impediments are the costs associated with such a program and fear of litigation affecting manufacturers, hospitals, physicians, and investigators. The long-term goal of Professor John DesJardins’ Creative Inquiry project is to discuss, investigate, develop, establish, promote and grow a viable retrieval program.

Rather than throwing these used devices away, members of this team have started a state-wide program, known as Clemson University Retrieval of Explants Program in Orthopedics (CU-REPO) to learn more about why implants fail, how they work, and how we can make them last longer. The aim of such a program is to provide a working repository for retrieved implants, and to develop the tools and techniques for the systematic evaluation of implant designs, materials, surfaces and function.

Every year nearly 1 million patients receive total joint replacements to relieve arthritis pain and restore joint function in the hip or knee. Within 15 years it is predicted that this clinical procedure will increase as much as 675%, as our population ages. These implants are not perfect, and sometimes they are removed, or explanted, because of infection, loosening, damage or wear. This team of undergraduate bioengineers collaborate with hospitals and surgeons from around the state and nation. They collect, clean, catalog and study explanted total joint replacements to make them better for all of us.