In surgical practice, joint implants are usually metallic objects made out of strong and light material such as titanium, which are built to last more than a decade. These implants can take over the functioning of damaged bone ends or cartilages and allow people to use dysfunctional joints again in their daily activities. However, a group of researchers from the Tampere University of Technology in Finland has discovered a joint implant contrary to the common knowledge by being biodegradable. It is said that the new biodegradable joint can repair damaged joints in small fingers and toes to their fullest range of motion within a short period of time.
Named RegJoint™, the biodegradable joint was the result of research over almost two decades. It’s an effort made in collaboration with the Department of Biomedical Engineering of Tampere University of Technology, Conmed Linvatec Biomaterials, Scaffdex Ltd and orthopedists from Tampere University Hospital. According to a press release issued by the Tempere University, the product has received the CE marking which enables the RegJoint to enter the European market even at its present state.
According to researchers of Tampere University of Technology, the new implants can be used to repair small joints in the hands and in the feet damaged as a result of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. In both these instances, the cartilages lining the bone ends in a particular joint degenerate and give rise to joint stiffness, immobility and pain. When using artificial joints, the two ends of the bones which form the joint need to be removed and replaced by the artificial joint. However, when using RegJoint, the bone ends are retained and the RegJoint is placed within the joint capsule between the two boneheads.
These joints are said to be made out of polylactide copolymer, which is a biodegradable material. Following implantation, the RegJoint will stimulate the tissues of the joint space to produce fibrous cells that will grow within and around the RegJoint. With time, the RegJoint will gradually degrade and will be replaced by a fibrous tissue structure, which will form a completely natural joint that will allow full range of motion for a lifetime.
The RegJoint has gone through several clinical trials and has received positive feedback from its study subjects. At the same time, a previous study performed on minipigs also revealed that joint scaffold arthroplasty, which is similar to the surgery performed when using RegJoint, could lead to the formation of a functional fibrous joint. The same study also points out that not having permanent artificial material within the joint makes the method attractive for future surgical procedures. The article was published in the Biomaterials journal in 2008 by researchers of the Helsinki University Central Hospital.
All in all, it is obvious that the world is moving to a more advanced stage of implants that would correct the many deficiencies existing with the present implants and techniques. However, it will take many years before RegJoint becomes widespread, and, once it does, making it accessible and affordable to all would be the next big challenge faced by its proponents.