People are living longer than ever before. But aging eventually exacts a toll on the human body. In particular, joints including the hip, knee and ankle are prone to deterioration over time. Degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis, as well as trauma and wear and tear, ultimately lead to pain and immobility.
As a result, more people are turning to joint replacement surgery for relief. While many patients undergo successful surgery and enjoy an improved quality of life, approximately 1 percent of total joint recipients experience an infection following surgery. Besides contributing to higher morbidity and mortality, post-surgical infections also drive up the cost of healthcare.
In an effort to reduce or even eliminate total joint infections, orthopaedic researchers at ASRI are testing an array of new prostheses and groundbreaking techniques.
“Biofilms — an aggregate of microorganisms that adhere to surfaces — are often responsible for infections involving total joint replacements and long bone non-unions,” said Stephen Conti, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at WPAHS and a lead investigator who is working on a variety of total joint studies. “However, the problem is that many clinicians aren’t aware that an infection is developing in the implant site. At ASRI, we are developing methods to help doctors better diagnose these types of infections earlier.”
Researchers are also hoping to develop smart implants that could eradicate harmful biofilms before they become full-blown infections.
In one study, researchers are testing the effectiveness of antibiotics that are added to cement that secures implanted artificial joints to bones. Their goal is to find a formula that ensures maximum therapeutic benefit without degrading the strength of the cement. To help facilitate these studies, ASRI has brought in William Costerton, PhD, a researcher who is one of the world’s leading experts on biofilms.
Orthopaedic research at ASRI also spans a variety of other areas. Researchers are comparing the effectiveness of different types of ankle replacements, testing the results of distal biceps reinsertion, evaluating the functional outcome of scapula fractures and assessing the efficacy of knee bracing after surgical fixation of tibia plateau fractures.
“Whether we are conducting clinical, biomechanical or microbiological research, our primary focus is on improving patient safety,” said Dr. Conti. “Our ultimate aim is to improve the quality of life.”