Improving our understanding of metal implant failures: Multiscale chemical imaging of exogenous metals in ex-vivo biological tissues

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Alexander P Morrell
  • Hayley Floyd
  • J Frederick W Mosselmans
  • Hiram Castillo-Michel
  • Edward T Davis
  • Julia E Parker
  • Richard A Martin
  • Owen Addison

External organisations

  • Aston University
  • Diamond Light Source Ltd
  • European Synchrotron Radiation Facility
  • University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust


Biological exposures to micro- and nano-scale exogenous metal particles generated as a consequence of in-service degradation of orthopaedic prosthetics can result in severe adverse tissues reactions. However, individual reactions are highly variable and are not easily predicted, due to in part a lack of understanding of the speciation of the metal-stimuli which dictates cellular interactions and toxicity. Investigating the chemistry of implant derived metallic particles in biological tissue samples is complicated by small feature sizes, low concentrations and often a heterogeneous speciation and distribution. These challenges were addressed by developing a multi-scale two-dimensional X-ray absorption spectroscopic (XAS) mapping approach to discriminate sub-micron changes in particulate chemistry within ex-vivo tissues associated with failed CoCrMo total hip replacements (THRs). As a result, in the context of THRs, we demonstrate much greater variation in Cr chemistry within tissues compared with previous reports. Cr compounds including phosphate, hydroxide, oxide, metal and organic complexes were observed and correlated with Co and Mo distributions. This variability may help explain the lack of agreement between biological responses observed in experimental exposure models and clinical outcomes. The multi-scale 2D XAS mapping approach presents an essential tool in discriminating the chemistry in dilute biological systems where speciation heterogeneity is expected. SIGNIFICANCE: Metal implants are routinely used in healthcare but may fail following degradation in the body. Although specific implants can be identified as 'high-risk', our analysis of failures is limited by a lack of understanding of the chemistry of implant metals within the peri-prosthetic milieu. A new approach to identify the speciation and variability in speciation at sub-micron resolution, of dilute exogenous metals within biological tissues is reported; applied to understanding the failure of metallic (CoCrMo) total-hip-replacements widely used in orthopedic surgery. Much greater variation in Cr chemistry was observed compared with previous reports and included phosphate, hydroxide, oxide, metal and organic complexes. This variability may explain lack of agreement between biological responses observed in experimental exposure models and clinical outcomes.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-293
Number of pages10
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Early online date5 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2019


  • XANES mapping, metal particle chemistry, microfocus spectroscopy, XRF, CoCr chemistry, total hip replacement