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Materials & Assembly
Porous Metal Spine Implant Heals Bone
7/19/2012

The TM Ardis Interbody System is a lumbar spine implant made with Zimmer's tantalum-based Trabecular Metal (TM) technology, a highly porous metallic substance with characteristics similar to the spongy type of bone.  (Source: Zimmer)
The TM Ardis Interbody System is a lumbar spine implant made with Zimmer's tantalum-based
Trabecular Metal (TM) technology, a highly porous metallic substance with characteristics similar
to the spongy type of bone.
(Source: Zimmer)

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Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A Baby Boomer's best friend
Ann R. Thryft   7/24/2012 1:13:17 PM
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Chuck, good question, but I suspect we'd have to ask a surgeon that specializes in this surgery to find actual lifetime info for a given implant (or access the sugeons-only info on the manufacturer's website). Aside from replacing degenerated bone that has been removed, as williamlweaver points out, the main function of the device is apparently to support new bone growth, no easy task. As the manufacturer's website does say, the other implants made of this material have been used  successfully for several years.

Scott Orlosky
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Re: A Baby Boomer's best friend
Scott Orlosky   7/22/2012 6:57:12 PM
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I have to agree. Not only is the application itself very cool, but the development process itself is fascinating.  I can almost see the future of active older adults careening down zip-lines and skydiving with impunity using their new tantalum-strengthed spines for support.

bobjengr
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Re: A Baby Boomer's best friend
bobjengr   7/21/2012 12:40:18 PM
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 Warren, I certainly agree.  Being a "baby-boomer" myself, I can't tell you the number of family, friends, etc I know that could benefit from this technology RIGHT NOW.  One very important sentence Ann put in her write-up--"THE MATERIAL HAS A HISTORY OF SEVERAL YEARS OF CLINICAL SUCCESS AS AN IMPLANT", indicates it could be ready for "prime time".  I don't know the regulatory processes necessary for approval but if the technology is there, considerable suffering could be lessened and possibly eliminated.  This is anoter great example of  how engneering  contributes to our society and  how significant problems can be solved when proper engineering is applied.  Great article Ann.

williamlweaver
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Re: A Baby Boomer's best friend
williamlweaver   7/20/2012 9:13:52 PM
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Hi Chuck...  I'm pretty sure the porous Tantalum substrate serves as a scaffold for new bone growth. Over time the metal implant becomes more natural bone than metal, providing the required mechanical and fatigue strength.

Charles Murray
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Re: A Baby Boomer's best friend
Charles Murray   7/20/2012 7:18:26 PM
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I do wonder about the performance of this material (especially in terms of elasticity) over time. Human backs do a lot of bending, twisting and compressing. This is an application where you can't afford to have plastic failure. Any idea how long this would last, Ann?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A Baby Boomer's best friend
Ann R. Thryft   7/20/2012 12:18:19 PM
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Aha. I thought so...(50s-era mad scientist rubbing hands together with gleam in eye, etc.).

williamlweaver
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Re: A Baby Boomer's best friend
williamlweaver   7/19/2012 11:58:55 AM
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Spot on, Ann! I'm a huge fan of biomemetic engineering for non-bio applications, which is marching us steadily into biological applications. 

The Singularity is being approached from all different directions...  =]

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A Baby Boomer's best friend
Ann R. Thryft   7/19/2012 11:40:09 AM
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williamlweaver, I also found the manufacturing process fascinating, especially the use of vapor deposition processes, which I've encountered previously in electronics manufacturing contexts. I'm not sure if you intended this implication, but your comment sounds like you may be thinking of the possibility of extending the materials and/or processes described in the article to biocompatible materials in electronics. Is that an accurate guess?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A Baby Boomer's best friend
Ann R. Thryft   7/19/2012 11:38:55 AM
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warren, I had the same idea about "nano" regarding the material's ability to be incorporated in to the body. As the article states, the manufacturer has already used this material successfully for making implants and other products for hips, knees, and extremities, as well as in the cervical spine (in the neck). What's new here is the use for the lumbar spine (in the lower back), at least in the US.

williamlweaver
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Re: A Baby Boomer's best friend
williamlweaver   7/19/2012 11:31:20 AM
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Yep... which is why I'm so impressed.

Use polymer methods to create the substrate material. Use foaming methods to create the correct porosity and shape. Pyrolyze the polymer to create a carbon latice with the appropriate geometry and then use this latice as an engineered scaffold to assemble the tantalum via vapor deposition.

How freaking elegant is that!?  =]

I agree my analogy to cermets is pretty loose. The resulting tantalum structure doesn't appear to get it's final mechanical properties as a polymer/metal composite.

I'm just wondering how soon this type of manufacturing process will be adopted for zeolite catalysts and other high-surface area materials like fuel cells. Maybe it already has... Great stuff!

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