For a long time, medical professionals have been attempting to replace organic parts of our bodies that have failed with fabricated substitutes, to varying degrees of success. The famous example of George Washington’s famous wooden teeth (that it turns out weren’t actually wood) comes to mind, though thankfully technology has progressed beyond replacing bone with stone. In modern times, advanced materials are used; specifically engineered, these materials are notable applications of a wealth of medical and material science knowledge.
Some materials that are used regularly here at Hammill are titanium, cobalt chrome, and PEEK; titanium and cobalt chrome are metals, whereas PEEK is a plastic. Since Washington’s day, the medical community has established extremely strict procedures and standards for determining a material’s use for implants. The most important of these qualifications is of course biocompatibility. These three materials all have the unique characteristic of being biologically inert, so that the body does not reject them after the surgery.
Titanium is perhaps the most familiar, as it has long been used in many fields for its incredibly high strength to weight ratio, and biocompatibility. Cobalt chrome is actually an alloy of the metals Cobalt and Chromium, and is another low-friction, biocompatible metal alloy often used in joint replacement. Perhaps the most interesting, PEEK (or polyether ether ketone, to give it it’s proper name) is an engineered thermoplastic, one of the few polymeric FDA approved plastics on the market, and accordingly expensive. There are others, such as UHMWPE, but study and practice are revealing that PEEK is preferred due to its low-wear, and strength. For any material science gurus, check out this handy comparison chart.
It’s amazing to step back and appreciate the complexity and precision with which modern medicine routinely operates. Medical technology is exploding at an incredible rate, and At Hammill Medical, we’re proud to be part of that fast-paced process of making lives better.