New laser treatment improves antibacterial properties and cellular integration of titanium implants

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Titanium orthopedic screws with and without silver immobilised onto their implant surfaces using the new laser process, which delivers long-lasting antimicrobial properties. (Image: Rahim Rahimi)

Researchers have developed a laser treatment process that immobilises silver onto the surfaces of titanium orthopedic implants, in order to improve their antibacterial properties and cellular integration. 

The process can be implemented onto many metal implant surfaces currently in use today.

Infection is a major complication when rods, plates, screws and other devices are embedded into people during procedures such as joint replacement surgery and spinal fusion surgery. Most infections occur because the devices’ titanium implant surfaces have poor antibacterial and osteoinductive properties; osteoinduction is the process that prompts bone formation.

Which is why the engineers from Purdue University in Indiana, US, have developed the new process, now published in Langmuir: The ACS Journal of Fundamental Interface Science.

The work could help improve the quality of life for the more than 6 million people who undergo orthopedic and trauma surgery annually.

The antibacterial efficacy of laser-nanotextured titanium surfaces with laser-immobilised silver was tested against both gram-positive (Staphylococcus aureus) and gram-negative (Escherichia coli) bacteria. The surfaces were observed to have efficient and stable antimicrobial properties for more than six days. The laser-nanotextured titanium surfaces also provided a 2.5-fold increase in osseointegration properties as compared to the pristine titanium implant surface.

“The first step of the two-step process creates a hierarchical nanostructure onto the titanium implant surface to enhance the bone cells’ attachment,” explained Rahim Rahimi, assistant professor in Purdue University’s School of Materials Engineering. “The second step immobilises silver with antibacterial properties onto the titanium implant surface. The technology allows us to not only immobilise antibacterial silver compounds onto the surface of the titanium implants, but also provide a unique surface nanotexturing that allows better settle attachment mineralisation. These unique characteristics will enable the improvement of implant outcomes, including less risk of infection and fewer complications like device failure.”

Rahimi said the traditional method to address infections caused by implanted orthopedic devices often utilises antibiotics or other surface modifications that have their own associated complications.

“Long-term antibacterial protection is not possible with these traditional drug coatings because a large portion of the loaded drug is released in a short time,” he said. “There also is often a mixture of microbes that are found in implant-associated infection; it is essential to choose a bactericidal agent that covers a broad spectrum.”

The next steps for Rahimi are to implement the new process onto standard orthopedic fixtures, validate the technology to get approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, and licence it to companies working in the orthopedic sector.

The innovation has been disclosed to the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization, which has applied for a patent on the intellectual property. Industry partners seeking to further develop this innovation should contact Patrick Finnerty (pwfinnerty@prf.org), about reference number 2022-RAHI-69768.

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