Colorado State Professor Develops Innovative Implant Material to Improve Quality of Life for Patients with Joint Pain

Active adults could seek joint replacements at an earlier age, reducing their pain sooner, with new biologically enhanced total joint implant materials designed by Colorado State University researchers.

Susan James, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Biomedical Engineering program, has spent much of the last decade developing a biologically enhanced, self-lubricating bearing material. Polymer science combined with tissue engineering created a new material that may allow human joints to survive much longer than current technology allows.

The new biologically enhanced material could benefit younger, more active joint-pain patients, particularly Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964).

To develop and market the commercial product, James and Colorado State are working with project director Herb Schwartz, president and CEO of Schwartz Biomedical, an Indiana-based orthopedic company, and a technology business incubator, the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center.

Technology for the joint implants exists at Colorado State, but it will be transferred to Indiana, where most implant manufacturers are based. The 21st Century Research and Technology Fund in Indiana is sponsoring the collaborative project.

James developed material that has improved wear-resistance over the conventional bearing material commonly used in total joint prostheses resulting from the infusion of a glycosaminoglycan.

Glycosaminoglycan is found within the knee and hip joints of the body. It lubricates normal joints and reduces frictional forces on contacting surfaces.

The new joint implant material will have the same role of providing a self-lubricating surface for the patient. The end result could be that the patient would have a longer lasting total joint, reducing the risk for revision surgery.

The new biologically enhanced material could also revolutionize the surface replacement market.

Surface replacements have had mixed clinical success due to "unnatural," poorly lubricated traditional joint replacement materials. The new material developed at Colorado State may provide less invasive treatment options to surgeons for the treatment of hip and shoulder trauma where total joint replacement is not immediately necessary. Young patients could benefit from the longer-lasting joint material used in surface replacement procedures; it will buy them time until total joint replacement is required.

Additionally, Schwartz Biomedical plans to aggressively market new applications of the materials – in tissue engineering, biologics and sports medicine, for example – to orthopedic and medical device companies in Indiana.

James is the founding Director of the Biomedical Engineering Program, Director of Rocky Mountain Materials Research and co-Director of the Orthopedic Bioengineering Research Laboratory at Colorado State. She is also chairwoman and a founding member of the Colorado Alliance for Bioengineering.  She received her doctorate in polymers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993 and her bachelor’s in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science with a minor in Biomedical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 1989.

Schwartz Biomedical, LLC, develops innovative tissue engineering solutions to orthopedic problems. The company has an established track record in generating innovative solutions in orthopedics and tissue engineering with more than 25 U.S. patents issued or pending.

The Northeast Indiana Innovation Center is a community technology business incubator designed to accelerate the growth and success of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support services. The center’s main goal is to produce successful firms that will leave the incubation program financially viable and freestanding.