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British Orthopaedic Research Society (BORS)


Although bovine serum is the lubricant recommended by several international standards for the wear testing of orthopedic biomaterials there are issues over its use. The inherent batch variation in protein content means that two bovine serum lubricants can give different wear rates. Due to degradation, the lubricant needs to be changed regularly, so that any third body wear particles are removed, thus potentially influencing wear regimes. There are also cost and safety issues with the use of bovine serum. For these reasons, alternative lubricants were investigated.

A 50-station wear test rig was used, which applied multi-directional motion to each ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) test pin. Each pin articulated against a cobalt chrome plate polished to better than 0.05 microns Ra. The following lubricants were used: 50% dilute bovine serum; soy protein; olive oil; wheatgerm oil; soya oil; albumin and globulin (AG) mix; albumin, globulin and chondroitin sulphate (AGC) mix; whole milk; Channel Island milk; 11 mg/ml protein egg white; 20 mg/ml egg white; and 40 mg/ml egg white. A minimum of 6 UHMWPE pins per lubricant were wear tested and the tests ran to 2.5 million cycles. Gravimetric measurements were taken throughout the test to determine the volume of wear and at the end of the test the samples were examined using a SEM.

The lubricants giving the closest results to bovine serum were 20 and 40 mg/ml egg white, with mean UHMWPE total wear volumes of 17.4 mm3 and 17.8 mm3 compared to bovine serum which gave 20.7 mm3. Surface topographies showed similar features too. The 11 mg/ml egg white lubricant and the AG and AGC lubricants were next closest in terms of wear. An UV absorbance assay found that all the protein based lubricants suffered from a high degradation rate, and the rate increased with increasing protein content.

Egg white may offer a less expensive alternative to dilute bovine serum as a test lubricant although it is likely that it too would need to be changed as regularly as bovine serum.