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The Joint Collector

One bioengineer amasses broken artificial joints to learn why they failed and how to build better ones.

The Scientist—March 1, 2012

Some people drive more aggressively than others,” says bioengineer John DesJardins. But he’s not talking about cars; rather, he’s referring to artificial joints.

More than 800,000 joints are now replaced each year in the United States, and DesJardins estimates that 90 percent of these surgeries go off without a hitch, and are still functional 10 years after surgery. However, the remaining 10 percent of artificial joints need to be replaced within that time period. These are the artificial joints that grab his attention. He cleans, preserves, catalogues, and stores busted knee, hip, and shoulder replacements to study why artificial joints fail and how to improve them.

Right now, DesJardins’s registry holds more than 1,000 joints, including some 600 knees. As the registry grows, he’ll be able to perform “larger studies to investigate material or design performance.”

Such studies require many retrieved implants. Other programs across the country are working to establish common collection procedures and to encourage collaboration. Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City houses the largest trove in the world, with more than 20,000 retrieved implants collected since 1977.

"John understands he’ll never catch up to us; we’ll always have more implants than he does,” says Timothy Wright, director of Hospital for Special Surgery’s Mary and Fred Trump Institute for Implant Analysis. But with such long-term, large-scale research projects, every bit helps. “There’s a lot of work for all of us, trust me,” he says.

This story originally appeared at the-scientist.com.


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