Every year there are 37,000 hip replacement surgeries performed in Canada, with more and more surgeries being performed on patients who are younger than 50.
In the past, hip replacement surgeries for such young patients would have caused significant concern owing to the fact that the hip implants themselves had relatively short lives. The prognosis was multiple painful surgeries over the lifespan of the patient.
Now, thanks to new biomaterials, the lifespan of hip implants is increasing remarkably, improving the lives of countless Canadians.
Biomaterials Engineers work alongside medical professionals, including surgeons,
to design and fabricate advanced materials for implants
A hip implant results in an interface between the natural materials within the patient’s body (e.g. bone, tissue and blood) and the synthetic engineered biomaterials of the implant. Biomaterials engineers understand the compatibility (e.g. toxicity) of synthetic materials and the human body and understand both the biological and mechanical function of the human body. They use this information to try to design new and innovative materials that are stronger, lighter and better able to withstand the harsh environment within the body. New innovations include adding drugs into the implant materials themselves to speed up the recovery period following surgery and to aid in the generation of a strong interface between the biological and synthetic materials.
The field of biomaterials, while relatively new, is expanding rapidly. The importance of this field has been recently recognized through the award of the Millennium Technology Prize (some say the engineering equivalent to the Nobel Prize) to one of the founding researchers in this field.
Several faculty in the Department of Materials Engineering at UBC are leading research and innovation in this field at an international level. Students have opportunity to specialize in biomaterials in the final year of their undergraduate degree.