Nanotechnology is the study, production and controlled manipulation of materials with a grain size < 100 nm. At this level, the laws of classical mechanics fall away and those of quantum mechanics take over, resulting in unique behaviour of matter in terms of melting point, conductivity and reactivity. Additionally, and likely more significant, as grain size decreases, the ratio of surface area to volume drastically increases, allowing for greater interaction between implants and the surrounding cellular environment. This favourable increase in surface area plays an important role in mesenchymal cell differentiation and ultimately bone-implant interactions.
Basic science and translational research have revealed important potential applications for nanotechnology in orthopaedic surgery, particularly with regard to improving the interaction between implants and host bone. Nanophase materials more closely match the architecture of native trabecular bone, thereby greatly improving the osseo-integration of orthopaedic implants. Nanophase-coated prostheses can also reduce bacterial adhesion more than conventionally surfaced prostheses. Nanophase selenium has shown great promise when used for tumour reconstructions, as has nanophase silver in the management of traumatic wounds. Nanophase silver may significantly improve healing of peripheral nerve injuries, and nanophase gold has powerful anti-inflammatory effects on tendon inflammation.
Considerable advances must be made in our understanding of the potential health risks of production, implantation and wear patterns of nanophase devices before they are approved for clinical use. Their potential, however, is considerable, and is likely to benefit us all in the future.