Is using ceramics a hip idea for joint replacement?
For over 200 years the Potteries has been home to businesses who have driven forward development of the pottery industry.
So now in the 21st century its no surprise that a specialist materials business from the region is at the forefront of shaping how ceramics can be used as advanced materials for use in new markets.
Stoke-on-Trent based CERAM Research specialises in working with manufacturers to develop new materials that are lighter, stronger or hold advanced proprieties to enable materials to be used in new ways.
They've been working with companies from across the world to develop materials that are used in a wealth of applications including healthcare, aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics, energy and environmental products.
At first, their latest development project that will research how ceramics can be used a material for hip replacements, may seem to have fragile chances of success.
But CERAM Research's scientists believe that by fusing one of our most basic materials, ceramics, with high tech science they can transform a brittle material into one that's stronger, lighter and tougher, enabling it to be used in new ways.
The NHS spends a lot of its cash funding hip replacement procedures, but as we live longer there is an issue that the traditional metal ball and plastic socket set used to as an artificial hip replacements does not last, and in around 10% of all hip replacement operations, further surgery is needed between ten and fifteen years after the initial treatment.
The problem is that plastic socket hip replacements wear out very slowly, at around 0.1mm per year and fragments from the joint are absorbed by the surrounding tissue which causes inflammation and eventual loosening of the joint.
Another issue is that as the patient grows older, the thinning of the surrounding bones, through conditions such as osteoporosis, also causes the joint to slip out of alignment.
This is where advanced ceramics come in. Through applying nanotechnology to ceramics, a really tough material can be created which is also light but strong.
Collectively this will provide a material that can be used to create artificial hip replacements which are expected to have a much longer lifespan.
The idea has got the backing from the Technology Strategy Board, the UK government organisation that provides investment to help get new innovative technologies off the ground.
After bidding for Technology Strategy Board funding as part of a consortia team which they led, CERAM Research has secured funding to enable a three year project exploring how nanotechnology can be applied to ceramics in order to make it a viable material for use in healthcare applications.
The research will be undertaken in partnership with other specialists from the Midlands region, including Loughborough University, Morgan Technical Ceramics in Rugby and MEL Chemicals based just north of The Potteries in Manchester.
So we'll be watching the research project with interest, because if the CERAM Research team and its partners can use advanced ceramics to help crack the problem of making hip replacements better its great news for patients and the NHS. And the people of The Potteries can be proud that they are again at the cutting edge of shaping innovation in ceramics.