Diamond-coated titanium a dazzling breakthrough for implants

14 Mar 2018

3D-printed titanium in a CVD plasma chamber. Samples glow due to the heat of the microwave plasma. Once removed, the titanium will have been coated with diamond. Image: RMIT University

Rather than a show of wealth, diamond-coated titanium biomedical implants offer radical improvements over existing ones.

Because of its strength and low weight, titanium has been the metal of choice for biomedical implants, but it is by no means perfect.

While titanium is fast, accurate and reliable for medical-grade and patient-specific implants, our bodies can sometimes reject this material.

Future Human

This is because the chemical compounds of titanium prevent tissue and bone from interacting with the implant efficiently, but new research has shown that the addition of diamonds leads to radical improvements in the way our bodies accept them.

The research team from RMIT University in Australia led by Dr Kate Fox, in a world-first, used nanodiamonds created by explosions placed on 3D scaffolds to create the surface coating as it is cheaper to obtain that titanium powder.

The coating is created via a microwave plasma process which was then combined with the titanium scaffolds to create the biomaterial.

“This coating not only promotes better cellular attachment to the underlying diamond-titanium layer, but encouraged the proliferation of mammalian cells,” Fox said.

“The diamond enhances the integration between the living bone and the artificial implant, and reduces bacterial attachment over an extended period of time.”

A few more years to go

Going on to describe it as an “exceptional biomaterial”, Fox said that the diamond coating could also significantly improve the implant’s wear and resistance over time.

The key to its success is the fact that diamonds are solid carbon and when introduced into the body – mostly comprised of carbon – the two readily accept and thrive off each other.

In addition to orthopaedics, diamond has also been used to coat cardiovascular stents and on joints, as well as in bionics and prosthetics.

“It will be a number of years before a technology like this is rolled out, and there are many steps to take until we see it available to patients,” Fox said.

“But what we have done is taken the first crucial step in a long and potentially incredible journey.”

The team’s research is published in Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic