METAL ions released by failing metal-on-metal hip joints can trigger an immune response similar to that caused by bacterial infections, North-East experts have found.
Research led by Newcastle University has revealed that cobalt ions can activate a crucial component of the body’s innate immune system - known as Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4).
Mistaking the minute metal particles for bacteria, the white blood cells attack, secreting chemicals that can cause inflammatory lesions, termed pseudotumours, around the joint.
Like most immune responses, TLR4 activation varies between individuals which may explain why some patients have reacted more severely than others to the MoM replacement hips. This reaction by the body has led to some MoM hip replacements having to be removed.
Publishing in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, the team from Newcastle University and the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said the research provides the first explanation for the chronic inflammation and tissue damage that is seen in some patients with failed MoM joints.
“Until now we haven’t really understood the biological process of why this was happening,” explains Dr Alison Tyson-Capper, a senior lecturer and molecular biologist at Newcastle University who led the research together with John Kirby, a Professor of Immunobiology at Newcastle University.
Prof Kirby adds: “The next step will be to find a way to match patients to specific prosthetic materials and consider therapeutic intervention designed to dampen down the inflammatory pathways activated by metal ions.”