Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Reliable testing improves patient care

The Institute for Health and Consumer Protection is the latest addition to the eight institutions which make up the European Commission's Joint Research Centre. One of its many tasks is to help improve the safety and reliability of medical devices, such as prosthetic hip joint...
The Institute for Health and Consumer Protection is the latest addition to the eight institutions which make up the European Commission's Joint Research Centre. One of its many tasks is to help improve the safety and reliability of medical devices, such as prosthetic hip joints.

Background

With a large percentage of Europe's population now falling into the older age group, replacement surgery has led to a steady increase in the use of prosthetic devices, such as artificial hips and knees, and dental implants. One result of living longer is that patients need more durable devices to avoid undergoing second or even third replacement operations.

Meanwhile, technological developments in materials science, such as the use of `smart' materials and high-sensitivity sensors, are creating the potential for notable improvements in several fields of medicine, ranging from advanced surgical instruments to basic equipment such as catheters. Consequently, the services of the Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP) are vital to keep a permanent watch on these emerging technologies in order to contribute to and encourage the harmonised application of new and improved medical devices in EU healthcare.

Description, impact and results

The Bio-Compatible Materials and Systems (BMS) unit is one of several research departments within the IHCP. In addition to looking at the reliability of medical devices, the unit also covers functional systems, biomedical modelling, and wear and corrosion in biomedical systems. The unit used to be part of the Institute for Advanced Materials, another JRC institute, and the move reflects a marked shift in emphasis from traditional metallurgical and ceramic material research.

In an ongoing project, researchers at IHCP have been studying the deposition of ceramics and carbon films in the bone environment. Using different surface engineering techniques, the research team has been able to deposit graded bio-compatible coatings such as zirconia, diamond-like carbon and nanocrystalline diamond. Such films have a number of medical uses: in artificial hips, for example, they can be coated on to the head of a joint to reduce friction and therefore wear, to give the joint a much longer operational life. In addition, there is less risk that any wear debris will be released into the body, resulting in implant failure. These coatings also improve the integration of metallic parts within the bone (osteo-integration).

In a separate project, a dual coating has been developed using a vacuum plasma spray (VPS) method. The coating is obtained by depositing osteo-conductive coatings, such as those described above, on to a titanium coating previously deposited by VPS.

Biomedical Modelling Structure and Testing is also responsible for setting up and maintaining a European implant register that will be used to evaluate the performance of orthopaedic implants and to predict their lifetime, as a function of environmental and patient-related factors. All these activities are designed to lead to the development of safer and more reliable medical devices to the benefit of patients throughout the EU.

Working partnerships

The IHCP has been set up to support the health and consumer policies of the European Union. As such it gathers, organises and optimises existing R&D components from the other Joint Research Centre institutes to maximise their scientific and technological potential in this sector. The institute is also involved in a number of cooperative research projects under the EU's Framework Programmes, as well as in other European programmes, such as Eureka.


Source: European Commission, DG XIII/D.4 - Information and dissemination of scientific and technical knowledge
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