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The University of Southampton

Joint venture: working in partnership to develop a unique hip replacement

Hip replacement operations transform lives. More than 85,000 are carried out every year in England and Wales, primarily to treat osteoarthritis, and most are very successful and give patients pain-free movement for well over ten years. However, younger, more active patients present a greater challenge. Engineers at the University of Southampton have worked closely with the orthopaedics industry and clinicians to come up with new implant solutions aimed to treat this patient group. Their research contributed directly to the development of two hip replacement products and more than 3,500 operations using the new hips have now been carried out.

Research challenge

Engineers at Finsbury Orthopaedics Ltd, a company making joint replacement implants, identified that new ceramic materials could allow the development of a strong, wear resistant, bone conserving alternative to larger metal-on-metal hip replacements. Finsbury called upon the expertise of bioengineers at the University of Southampton’s Bioengineering Science Research Group. A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) was set up with the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) to develop ceramic hip replacements, to create a treatment for young osteoarthritis sufferers.


Certain designs of metal-on-metal bearing hip replacements have had higher than average failure rates. In all joint replacements, mechanical wear during normal activities generates microscopic particles known as wear debris. In metal bearing joints, this debris corrodes and releases metal ions, which can occasionally produce adverse biological reactions. These reactions are rare in many implant designs, but are most common in very worn joints, when more debris has been released, and in young female patients who have small diameter hips. Ceramic bearing materials offer excellent compatibility with the human body and are highly wear resistant, but the development of new implants which use ceramics requires careful pre-clinical evaluation and testing.

Our solution

We brought together academics and experts from industry to work on this challenge. Academic lead Professor Martin Browne, Head of the Bioengineering Sciences research group, Dr Andy Taylor (then Director of Finsbury Development Ltd, now of Aurora Medical Ltd) and researcher Dr Alex Dickinson (former PhD student, now a New Frontiers Research Fellow) came up with innovative implant concepts involving ceramic materials instead of metal, which do not react with the human body.

Their work led to the development of two alternative hip replacement systems, the DeltaMotion® cup (or socket) and the DeltaSurf® head (or ball), the first of which is now in clinical use. The team in Southampton also produced a set of computational tools to understand the biomechanical performance of existing implants, and to predict how new design concepts will perform. Furthermore, the partnership produced purpose-designed testing methods for pre-clinical analysis of novel implant concepts, where the innovative designs involved could not be tested in conventional ways.

What was the impact

More than 3,500 people have received DeltaMotion hips in Europe, Asia and Australia, after regulatory approval for their use was granted. At two years promising first clinical results in the challenging young, active patient group have been published in the clinical literature and Australia’s National Joint Replacement Register.

The Knowledge Transfer Partnership won the Engineering Excellence Award and the Best Partnership Award (South East Region) at the KTP Awards 2011, and was shortlisted at the 2009 Technology & Innovation Awards, run by The Engineer magazine. The project supported the formation of Aurora Medical Ltd at Southampton Science Park, for further medical device research and development. The analysis and testing techniques developed by the team are now used in the orthopaedics industry, and the partnership’s researchers have used this exciting case study to promote bioengineering science more widely to hundreds of school students. It has also supported interns in the research group who have gone on to engineering science careers in UK research and industry.


X-ray of the implant
A cadaver trial surgery

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The DeltaSurf head

Please note some people may find this video disturbing.


Video: permission from 'The hip surgeon'



Internal news stories

Pioneering projects win national awards for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

Bioengineering KTP recognised in 2011 awards


Alex Dickinson LinkedIn
Alex Dickinson LinkedIn

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