UL researchers design new metal alloy to improve X-ray visibility

20 May 2013

Dr Syed Tofail, researcher at the Materials and Surface Science Institute, University of Limerick

Scientists and engineers from the Materials and Surface Science Institute at the University of Limerick (UL) say they have come up with a new metal alloy to construct medical devices that are placed in the body, such as stents and valves, and make them more visible under X-ray.

The research on the new metal alloy was carried out as part of an Enterprise Ireland-supported innovation partnership between UL and the medical devices company Cook Medical.

When medical devices, such as stents, are placed in the body, this procedure usually happens with the help of some kind of medical imaging, such as X-ray fluoroscopy, so a surgeon can clearly see where the device is being placed.

Future Human

According to the researchers, materials that are currently used to make such medical devices do not show up very well under X-ray.

“An ideal solution is a device that is fully visible under the X-ray, but the alloy would have to be developed based on the currently approved alloys for medical devices,” said Dr Syed Tofail, a researcher at UL’s Materials and Surface Science Institute.

Up to now, he said many companies have used gold or platinum to modify existing alloys and improve X-ray visibility – but this can be costly.

“We have identified a number of alloying elements that will make these devices as visible as those where platinum has been added to enhance the visibility, but at a significantly reduced cost,” said Tofail.

Shay Lavelle, a product development engineer at Cook Medical, said tests on a prototype wire of the new alloy have shown that it has the potential to be used in some of the company’s products.

“The fact that the raw materials are more viable than the platinum-added solutions also means that the commercialisation potential of this newly developed alloy is very high,” he said.

Cook Medical’s Irish factory is based at the National Technology Park in Limerick and employs almost 800 people.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic