CeramTec Medical Engineering - The future of advanced ceramics in orthopaedics

Although ceramics have recently found new applications such as bone screws and spinal spacing systems, joint replacement is still the most common use of the materialin orthopaedics. Heinrich Wecker, CeramTec Medical Engineering's director of strategic business development for medical engineering, outlines the benefits of ceramics.

Why are ceramics considered the ideal material for orthopaedic implants?

Heinrich Wecker: Ceramic materials are bioinert; there have been no reported allergic reactions and they are extremely strong with unique surface properties. In terms of hardness, for example, only diamond is superior to ceramics. They exhibit good wettability and are extremely wear-resistant.

Implants made from CeramTec Medical Engineering's Biolox ceramic owe their superior properties to a unique material composition, modern production techniques and a comprehensive multistage system of quality control.

Our high-performance ceramics are inorganic, non-metallic and excel with their unique mechanical, electrical, thermal, biological and chemical properties.

By combining defined base materials and precisely adjusting specific microstructures, it is possible to steer mechanical and physical parameters in various directions. Depending on the base materials and the processing technology, ceramic materials can be created with additional unique properties.

Could you tell us about the success of your ceramic hip-replacement components?

No other global manufacturer's material is used as often for wear couples as Biolox ceramics. Almost ten million Biolox components have been implanted since 1974. Around 60% of all patients in central Europe who undergo hip-joint operations receive Biolox component implants.

Can you go into details about the ceramic shoulder component you are launching next year?

CeramTec is working with orthopaedic manufacturers, materials scientists and surgeons on types of anatomic and reverse shoulder components made using Biolox ceramics.

The advantage of this type of cooperation is that clients can offer their vast experience of implant design and the required clinical data, while CeramTec provides more than 100 years of ceramic material expertise, along with over 40 years' experience in clinical studies.

The result of these close client relationships is a product that works, has a low complication rate and produces the best clinical results on the market.

We - and our clients - believe that, by using ceramics in shoulder arthroplasty, better tribological characteristics can be achieved. Wear particles, metal allergies and infections are current issues in shoulder arthroplasty. In this area, polyethylene (PE) wear in the glenoid components is one of the main causes of implant failure. The use of ceramic components can optimise bearing couples and significantly reduce PE wear, minimising the risk of aseptic loosening. Because ceramic - unlike metal - is completely bioinert, allergic reactions are unknown. There is also evidence that the material reduces the risk of microbial contamination.

Are you planning to supply products for other joints?

Our industry partners are constantly asking us about new applications for bioceramics. The most urgent requests are for wear-debris reduction, improved imaging, microbial contamination prevention and the provision of options for patients with hypersensitivity to metals.

Bioinert ceramic components offer solutions to these problems. This is why CeramTec is now vigorously pursuing their development at its new medical engineering division in Lauf, Germany, where more than 500 employees are involved in the manufacturing of high-performance ceramics.

The goal of CeramTec Medical Engineering is to develop ceramic OEM solutions for new medical treatments such as spine arthroplasty, shoulder and small joints, partial resurfacing, dental implants and instruments.

In the spine segment, our team is focusing on the development of ceramic solutions for total disc replacement and spacers, and in the dental field, we are working on a comprehensive technology platform for ceramic dental implants.

How do you see the future of ceramic orthopaedics?

Due to the very high metal abrasion with metal/metal-tribological pairing, which can result in pseudotumours, endoprosthetic surgeons are increasingly opting for CeramTec's Biolox ceramics. This is why we believe that ceramic implants are the material of the future.

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