Health Watch: "Smart Parts" for amputees and others could be Medicine's next big thing

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Infection is a growing problem for patients living with prosthetics and implants. But now, some scientists are researching and designing "smart parts", resistant to dangerous bacte

Every year in the United States, 185,000 people need an amputation. More than 300,000 have hip replacements, and 700,000 have knee replacements. Infection is a growing problem for patients living with prosthetics and implants. But now, some scientists are researching and designing "smart parts", resistant to dangerous bacteria.

Michael Carroll, Orthotist-Prosthetist at Orlando VA Medical Center has spent the past ten years custom designing replacement limbs for amputees. His work gives patients mobility, but sometimes a prosthesis comes with risk.

"The very nature of a prosthetic socket, warm environment with a good amount of moisture and darkness makes it more likely they'll have an infection," Carroll said.

Carroll's concern about infection is just one medical complication that scientist Melanie Coathup, Ph.D. and her colleagues are trying to eliminate. Coathup is an internationally-known orthopedic expert, now at the University of Central Florida, working to make traditional replacement parts "smarter" and last longer.

"When you put an implant in the last very well, but can we make that even better," Coathup said. (Read Full Interview)

Coathup and her team are taking commercially available titanium implants and coating them with hydroxyapatite: a hard-mineral substance much like human bone or teeth.

"We can spray these onto the implant surfaces with certain designs of hip replacements and knee replacements and they will encourage bone to attach," Coathup explained.

Down the road, Coathup and her team also want to know if coating the implants with drugs could help prevent infection. Someday giving Michael Carroll's handiwork another benefit for patients.

Professor Coathup is also leading the newly formed prosthetic interface cluster, a team of UCF scientists, engineers and biologists working together to develop the smart implants and other prosthetics.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Field and Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer and Editor.
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