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Researchers Find Cause of Metal Hip Implant Inflammation

July 10, 2012 — For several years, experts have known that metal-on-metal hip implants can shed nano-particles of chromium and cobalt into the body, causing severe pain, inflammation, and loss of mobility. Now, researchers have discovered the root cause of inflammation from metal-on-metal hip implants — particles of chromium accumulate in white blood cells, where they are exposed to oxygen. The oxidizing chromium corrodes, releasing charged cobalt ions into the body. Cobalt ions are genotoxic — they damage cellular DNA. This raises concern about long-term medical complications, even for people who have had revision surgery.

The study was published in the journal Chemical Communication, and was conducted by researchers from the Imperial College London and Ohio State University. The study is the first to examine how nano-particles from metal-on-metal hip implants affect the body. The researchers used a novel approach, utilizing high resolution X-ray and electron microscopy to examine tissue samples collected from patients undergoing revision surgery because their hip implant had failed.

Experts had previously known that the grinding metal-on-metal hip implants could shed tiny particles of chromium and cobalt into the body. What the researchers discovered was that the nano-particles of chromium are absorbed by white blood cells (the cells responsible for absorbing debris in the body). Inside the white blood cells, chromium is exposed to oxygen. The metal begins to oxidize, corroding inside the cells. The oxidizing chromium releases charged cobalt (Co²) ions into the body. Co² ions are highly soluble, and they easily leach into nearby tissues, bones, muscles, and the bloodstream. The chromium is less soluble, and forms a solid residue that remains permanently in the tissue.

Co² ions are known to be genotoxic, which means that they damage cellular DNA. It is unknown what long-term effects these metal particles have, and further research is needed.

According to Dr. Mary Ryan, co-author of the paper,

“Even though a huge number of patients have benefited from replacement surgery, we still don’t fully understand the long-term impacts that implantable materials have on our bodies.”

The researchers intend to continue their investigation to determine why chromium and cobalt corrode from metal-on-metal hip implants, whereas other metal alloys do not corrode in the body. The researchers also intend to determine whether these metal nano-particles correlate with diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Do I have a Metal-on-Metal Hip Implant Lawsuit?

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