Biocompatible coatings can drastically reduce the amount of time a patient recovers after having surgery to implant a medical device. A recent rash of peer-reviewed papers has helped to promote these types of coatings to a wide number of medical technicians who are now opting for implant devices coated in them. These coatings work because they present a far more neutral matrix to the immune system, thus decreasing the risk that a patient’s body will reject them.
The immune system attacks any foreign body that’s inside of a patient. Anything from dental implants to stents can suffer rejection if it looks foreign to the body. Cardiovascular implants come with some of the highest rejection risks. The fact that most modern prosthetic devices are made of more than one material can convince the cells in someone’s body that they’re particularly dangerous.
By using biocompatible coatings, a surgeon throttles down this response. The implants would instead present only a single foreign material to the patient’s immune system, which looks far less threatening than the complex matrix that they’d otherwise feature. It’s also much easier to calculate the risk of rejection of one single material than it would be to figure out the risk for parts made of disparate materials placed next to each other.
Nitinol is quickly becoming one of the most important materials for making biocompatible parts. This alloy of titanium and nickel is easy to shape and it has elastic properties that are quite close to those of bone. Replacement heart valves, stents, bone staples and even musculoskeletal anchors are now either made from or coated with this versatile material.
Research into new technologies continues to produce new breakthroughs. Future coatings may feature some kind of organic material that mimics the body’s own cellular matrix. This would allow surgeons to implant medical devices with no real risk of rejection at all.