Nanotechnology Applications in Orthopaedic Practice
Nanotechnology studies materials, processes, and structures at the atomistic and molecular levels. It has a great deal of potential application in clinical practice, ranging from diagnostics to tissue imaging, to drug design and regenerative medicine. In orthopaedic practice, nanotechnology can be employed in two basic fields, i.e. designing better bone replacement materials, and providing a better understanding of bone deformation properties.
Traditional ceramics have been normally used in the treatment of fractures, but they are not very efficient since they do not directly bond with the bone, i.e. they have weak osseous integration. Attempts have been made to design biocompatible substitutes which mimic the surface properties of normal bones. With the advent of nanotechnology, real possibilities have now emerged to design nano-structural materials, whose grain sizes is less than 100 nm, for use in orthopaedic and dental applications.
These new materials referred to as nano-phase ceramics, can simulate the surface properties of real healthy bones and can significantly enhance the formation of bone-forming cells, i.e. osteoblasts. Another aspect of the use of nanotechnology in orthopaedic practice, is to formulate models and conduct experiments to understand the deformation properties of bones at nanoscales, since these deformations control the exceptional mechanical properties of the bone matrix. The detailed behaviour of the bone matrix at molecular and atomistic levels is still unknown.
Although the large-scale macroscopic mechanical properties, such as failure strain and strength and the fracture mode can be correlated with the different modes of deformation of the bone matrix, the behaviour of the bone at the fibril level is still lacking. Nanotechnology can help a great deal to quantify the fibrillar deformation mechanisms in the bone.