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J Arthroplasty. 2001 Dec;16(8):1018-23.

A comparison of the wear and physical properties of silane cross-linked polyethylene and ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene.

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  • 1Department of Medical and Biological Engineering, School of Mechanical Engineering, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom.


Cross-linked polyethylenes are being introduced widely in acetabular cups in hip prostheses as a strategy to reduce the incidence of wear debris-induced osteolysis. It will be many years before substantial clinical data can be collected on the wear of these new materials. Silane cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE) was introduced into clinical practice in a limited series of acetabular cups in 1986 articulating against 22.225-mm alumina ceramic femoral heads and showed reduced wear rates compared with conventionally sterilized (gamma irradiation in air) ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). We compared the wear of XLPE manufactured in 1986 with the wear of UHMWPE manufactured in 1986 in nonirradiated and irradiated forms. In the nonirradiated forms, the wear of XLPE was 3 times less than UHWMPE when articulating against smooth counterfaces. The nonirradiated materials did not show signs of oxidation. In the irradiated forms, only UHMWPE showed high levels of oxidation, and this caused a substantial increase in wear. Antioxidants added to XLPE during processing gave resistance to oxidative degradation. When sliding against scratched counterfaces, the wear of UHMWPE increased by a factor of 2 to 3 times. Against the same scratched counterfaces, the wear of XLPE increased dramatically by 30 to 200 times. This difference may be attributed to the reduction in toughness of XLPE. Clinically, XLPE has been articulated against damage-resistant ceramic heads, and this probably has been an important factor in contributing to reduced wear. New cross-linked polyethylenes differ considerably from XLPE. This study indicates that it is prudent to examine the wear of new polyethylenes under a range of conditions that may occur in vivo.

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