ARCHIVED - Innovation in Biomaterials: Titanium Foams for Tissue Attachment

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October 03, 2003— Ottawa, Ontario

NRC Develops a New Manufacturing Process to Produce Metallic Foams

Prototype of attachment systems for acetabular cup (hip replacement).

Prototype of attachment systems for acetabular cup (hip replacement).

Musculoskeletal disorders are the most common cause of long-term pain and physical disability around the world. Efforts have been made in many countries to develop new materials that will provide long-term solutions to some of these problems. Scientific advancements have been made in the development of new porous biomaterials that may replace or repair bone structure.

Porous metals have been recently used in non-traditional orthopedic applications, such as spine fusion, where they significantly improved surgical procedures. They have also been used in more traditional operations such as total hip and knee replacements and in dentistry to provide better long-term attachment of the devices.

Prototype of attachment systems for dental implants.

Prototype of attachment systems for dental implants.

Researchers at NRC's Industrial Materials Institute (NRC-IMI) are developing a new manufacturing process to produce metallic foams to be used as porous implants and attachments systems for orthopaedic and dental applications. The process has been recently adapted to synthesize biomimetic titanium foams for the development of scaffolds for bone replacement or repair, and for connective tissue attachment.

The unique low density, corrosion resistant, biocompatible, open-cell structure of NRC-IMI's metallic foams makes them attractive for the fabrication of biomedical implants. These foams are characterized by structures and properties closely matching those of bones. The interconnected porosity allows tissue growth and integration, known as osteointegration.

Ti foams produced for the fabrication of osteoinductive components.

Ti foams produced for the fabrication of osteoinductive components.

NRC-IMI has developed the fabrication process, combining powder metallurgy and polymer foam technologies, allowing the production of materials having different structures and properties. This highly versatile process can be used to produce coatings as well as fully porous structures.

The titanium foam is produced by mixing titanium particles with a polymer and a foaming agent. After foaming, the binding agent or polymer is removed from the material, which is then treated at high temperature to provide the structural integrity to the foam. The resulting material has an open-cell microstructure with low density. The material formulation and process parameters can be adjusted to control the structure, density, pore size and properties of the material. The process has been used to produce different types of metals with different pore sizes, notably within the range of 50 µm to 400 µm as required for osteoconductive applications.

Since the costs associated with materials and devices are minor in comparison with operating procedures and post-op rehabilitation, there exists a viable opportunity to expand the medical devices markets while reducing the overall socio-economic impact associated with these health problems.

NRC-IMI researchers are currently working on optimizing the process, as well as on the evaluation of the effect of different materials and manufacturing conditions on the titanium foam's microstructure and properties. Development and testing is taking place in collaboration with universities (McGill, Dalhousie, École Polytechnique, Sherbrooke, ENPG) and other NRC institutes (NRC-IMTI, NRC-SIMS, NRC-ICPET, NRC-IAR). Discussions are presently underway to transfer the technology to device manufacturers.

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