Touching Lives - December 2003
Hip replacement surgery
Thankfully these days sufferers can be successfully treated through hip replacement surgery. And Action Medical Research has been at the centre of the development of what is now a widespread and life-changing operation.
The history of the hip replacement
The beginnings of modern hip joint surgery date from the late 1930s following the development of metallic alloys which could be safely implanted inside the body. Initially it was either the head of the femur [thigh bone] or the hip socket, but not both, which were replaced — with erratic results.
The innovation of replacing both femur and socket using a tailor-made ‘ball and socket’ joint came next, but the materials used were not up to the job. The risk remained that the joints would not be able to survive for many years inside the body without coming away from the bone to which they were attached.
Then in 1960 John Charnley, an orthopaedic surgeon from the Wrightington Hospital in Wigan, published the results of his work using a rapid-setting acrylic cement to fix metallic implants to bone. ^This development dramatically improved the results of hip replacement operations, and rapidly turned it into a popular treatment benefiting many thousands of patients^.
John Charnley’s innovation did not stop there. It was still difficult to keep hip replacement joints properly lubricated inside the body and thus prevent wear and tear. Charnley tried various materials, including the then space-age non-stick Teflon.
But it was one of Charnley’s laboratory assistants who initiated tests with a material called High Molecular Weight Polyethylene, which proved to have exceptional powers of wear resistance and now forms hip replacement joints which can last for around 20 years.
The Action Medical Research link
It was Action Medical Research funding that allowed Charnley to establish a Clinical Research Centre for hip surgery, where his pioneering work was developed and tested out. Further grants to extend the unit, and to help solve the problem of potential infection, made our contribution key to what has for so long been regarded as the gold standard in hip replacement technique.
The Charity continues to fund research to improve various aspects of hip surgery. For example, there is currently an Action Medical Research project looking at ways of assessing the longevity of hip replacement joints.
With Action Medical Research’s help, people benefiting from hip replacement operations in the future can look forward to many more years of improved mobility and freedom from pain.