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J Biomed Mater Res A. 2007 Aug;82(2):403-14.

Surface mechanical properties, corrosion resistance, and cytocompatibility of nitrogen plasma-implanted nickel-titanium alloys: a comparative study with commonly used medical grade materials.

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Division of Spine Surgery, Department of Orthopaedics and Traumatology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong.


Stainless steel and titanium alloys are the most common metallic orthopedic materials. Recently, nickel-titanium (NiTi) shape memory alloys have attracted much attention due to their shape memory effect and super-elasticity. However, this alloy consists of equal amounts of nickel and titanium, and nickel is a well known sensitizer to cause allergy or other deleterious effects in living tissues. Nickel ion leaching is correspondingly worse if the surface corrosion resistance deteriorates. We have therefore modified the NiTi surface by nitrogen plasma immersion ion implantation (PIII). The surface chemistry and corrosion resistance of the implanted samples were studied and compared with those of the untreated NiTi alloys, stainless steel, and Ti-6Al-4V alloy serving as controls. Immersion tests were carried out to investigate the extent of nickel leaching under simulated human body conditions and cytocompatibility tests were conducted using enhanced green fluorescent protein mice osteoblasts. The X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy results reveal that a thin titanium nitride (TiN) layer with higher hardness is formed on the surface after nitrogen PIII. The corrosion resistance of the implanted sample is also superior to that of the untreated NiTi and stainless steel and comparable to that of titanium alloy. The release of nickel ions is significantly reduced compared with the untreated NiTi. The sample with surface TiN exhibits the highest amount of cell proliferation whereas stainless steel fares the worst. Compared with coatings, the plasma-implanted structure does not delaminate as easily and nitrogen PIII is a viable way to improve the properties of NiTi orthopedic implants.

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