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Research / Discovery

Bioplastic discovery improves joint implants

July 19, 2010
By Lana Hoff

Injuries and wear-and-tear in the human skeletal system may have been debilitating just a few decades ago, but efforts to keep people more mobile are advancing, thanks to discoveries in biomedical research.

Susan James (left), and an undergraduate student work in the CSU Orthopaedics Bioengineering Research Laboratory.

Star of bioengineering

Susan James, professor of mechanical engineering and co-director and professor of the School of Biomedical Engineering, is one of Colorado State’s stars of bioengineering through her research in total joint-replacement and orthopedic-implant materials. Her industry background in materials science, combined with her education at Carnegie Mellon and MIT, enabled her to establish a strong research and educational program in biomedical engineering from the time she arrived at CSU in 1994.

The Colorado State University Research Foundation, or CSURF, licensed technology on a new, trademarked biomaterial named BioPoly. The material, developed by James’ research group, will vastly improve the performance of orthopedic implants by incorporating a natural biomolecule found in cartilage into the surface of plastic implant materials.

BioPoly implants debut in Europe

Several years of laboratory testing have produced promising results, and this year, the Indiana-based company, Schwartz Biomedical, has licensed the technology from CSURF and will be launching BioPoly implants in Europe, with a later launch in the United States.

One implant application under development is the use of Bio-Poly material as synthetic cartilage for partial resurfacing of knees. In partial resurfacing, surgeons replace defective cartilage instead of the entire joint, thus allowing patients to retain more native tissue.

Self-lubricating surface for joints

The BioPoly material’s hydrophilic (water-attracting) nature is designed to provide a self-lubricating surface for joints. The end result seeks to give patients longer-lasting joints and reduce the risk for revision surgery.

James’ biomaterial research continues with funding from the state of Colorado’s Bioscience Discovery Evaluation Grants Program to develop new implant coating technologies for integrating implants into bone that can also locally release drugs. CSU’s Cancer Supercluster has provided matching funding to study the implant coatings and their potential to release chemotherapy drugs locally at cancer sites.

A closer look

Susan James, professor of mechanical engineering and director and professor of the School of Biomedical Engineering, also is co-director of the Orthopaedics Bioengineering Research Laboratory. Beginning in July, she will be head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Through her work as a role model and mentor, she has expanded the number of young women enrolled in engineering at CSU.

She enjoys hiking in the mountains with her husband and two sons, oil painting, and creating her own line of personal skin-care products.

Originally published in Colorado State Magazine, Spring 2010.