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Laser could light the way in joint surgery and save the NHS money

By This is Lincolnshire  |  Posted: April 08, 2011

Dr David Waugh, a research fellow at the University of Lincoln, is looking at using lasers to improve the success of joint surgeries.

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LASERS could hold the key to stopping unnecessary surgeries and saving the NHS money, according to a Lincoln scientist.

Research being carried out by a University of Lincoln engineer is destined to increase the success rate of operations like hip and knee replacements.

At the moment, this type of operation often has to be revisited if the body rejects the implant or does not bond with it correctly.

By using different laser wavelengths on polymers, David Waugh, of the University of Lincoln's School of Engineering, can change the surface properties of the implant, meaning the body is less likely to see it as a foreign object.

Dr Waugh said: "It is in the early stages of research at the moment but the NHS has been interested in it from the start.

"If an implant is rejected, that can lead to unnecessary surgery which is bad for the patient and also costly to the NHS.

"As a result of an ageing population, this type of operation is going to become more frequent and at the moment the failure rate is quite high.

"What we do is use different wavelengths of laser to irradiate the surface of a polymer and by doing this we can change the type of surface but keep the characteristics of the material at the same time.

"This is because the materials used in the operations usually have the bulk properties needed for what they are being used for, it is the body's acceptance rates that we need to improve."

The practical applications of this work could eventually save the NHS time and money as surgeons would have to repeat fewer operations.

Carl Edwards, the former director of innovation at NHS East Midlands, was involved in Dr Waugh's research from the outset.

Dr Edwards said: "Everything is geared to making the NHS more efficient and it is difficult for us to improve that if we have to return to patients if implants do not take.

"This work could make it so that once a patient has had a surgery, we will be confident that we will not need to operate again.

"It also means we might be able to use cheaper material that is just as effective. At the moment we using expensive metals and ceramics in the hope the body will accept it more readily.

"What David's research means is that we will be able to use polymers, which are cheaper, but have all the properties we need to make long-lasting implants."

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