Ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene, paired with an alloy of cobalt and chromium, has been the material of choice for longer-lasting orthopedic implants--such as joint replacements for hips and knees. But even joints made from this material last only a decade, prompting industry to search for better materials. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (Gaithersburg, MD) along with four companies--Biomet Inc., and Zimmer Inc. (Warsaw, IN), Johnson & Johnson Professional Inc. (Raynham, MA), and Osteonics Corp. (Allendale, NJ)--designed a device to speed up the screening for new material combinations. Presently, it takes about six months for conventional equipment to simulate the natural wear of artificial hips. The new accelerated wear machine completes a screening in about a week. The device evaluates different material combinations, debris production, and changes in surface texture--resembling the wear implants are exposed to in the body. Researchers will now use the device to study how alternative materials hold up under the effects of motion, environment, and a variety of stress-loading cycles that represent the physical routines of different people. If interested in either the consortium or the device, call: (301) 975-6799.
In a line of ultra-futuristic projects, DARPA is developing a brain microchip that will help heal the bodies and minds of soldiers. A final product is far off, but preliminary chips are already being tested.
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