It is possible that broken bones will in the near future be fixed using metallic glass. Materials researchers at ETH Zurich have developed an alloy that could herald a new generation of biodegradable bone implants. Their results have been published in the online edition of Nature Materials.
When bones break, surgeons need screws and metal plates to fix the broken bones in place. These supports are usually made of stainless steel or titanium. Once the bones have healed, the metal parts have to be removed from the body via further surgery. In order to reduce the burden on patients, materials re-searchers have taken up the task of producing implants from bioabsorbable metals. These implants should stabilize the bones only for as long as they need to heal. The metal dissolves in the body over time, rendering removal surgery unnecessary. Implants made of magnesium-based alloys are proving particularly promising. Magnesium is mechanically stable and degrades completely by releasing ions which are tolerated by the body. However, all magnesium alloys have one major drawback: when they dissolve they produce hydrogen (H2), which can be harmful to the body. Around the magnesium implants gas bubbles develop which hinder bone growth and thus the healing process, and potentially cause infection.