Way back in 1556, someone was amazed enough that a surgical procedure using a metal implant was successful that he or she wrote about it, and it turns out to be the earliest record regarding this type of application. One of the reasons for this writer’s surprise was probably because although metal pins and wires had been used for a long time in surgery, the gold, iron, and silver alloys employed in the surgeries were often rejected, became highly infected, or caused death.
Joseph Lister was fascinated by Louis Pasteur’s microbiological discovery, so in the 1860s, he created an aseptic technique for surgery by using carbolic acid that revolutionized the medical community. This helped the early steel implants somewhat, but the metal still degraded rapidly once inside the body, and there were many adverse problems to deal with.
When surgeons began using vanadium steel pins to stabilize broken bones, they were surprised to find healing accelerated over the other types of metal. Though many metals were tested, the failure rate of the implant, the destruction of the metal into the bone, and the high corrosion rate continued.
Pure titanium metals began being used as implants less than 100 years ago. They were valued for their bio-compatibility, strength, and lack of body rejection. Some medical procedures are still using titanium today.
Around 1920, a new type of stainless-steel alloy was created. It was called 316L. Not only was the metal resistant to corrosion inside the body, but it was also considered bio-compatible. Today, the alloy is processed with a micro-cleanliness specification that excels in producing a product the human body can tolerate. In fact, the 316lvm is a type of 316L that is vacuum melted to ensure the highest standards are met.
Thanks to the ingenuity of many creative thinkers, implants have become cleaner, smaller, and more refined. It is difficult to imagine what the next breakthrough in implants will be.