Hip replacements are used to improve the quality of life of people with orthopaedic conditions, but the use of metal-on-metal (MoM) arthroplasty has led to poor outcomes for some patients. These problems are related to the generation of micro- to nanosized metal wear particles containing Cr, Co or other elements, but the current analytical methods used to investigate the processes involved do not provide sufficient information to understand the size or composition of the wear particles generated in vivo. In this qualitative feasibility study, asymmetric flow field-flow fractionation (AF4) coupled with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) was used to investigate metal protein binding and the size and composition of wear metal particles present in serum and hip aspirates from MoM hip replacement patients. A well-established HPLC anion exchange chromatography (AEC) separation system coupled to ICP-MS was used to confirm the metal–protein associations in the serum samples. Off-line single particle ICP-MS (spICP-MS) analysis was used to confirm the approximate size distribution indicated by AF4 of the wear particles in hip aspirates. In the serum samples, AF4–ICP-MS suggested that Cr was associated with transferrin (Tf) and Co with albumin (Alb) and an unidentified species; AEC–ICP-MS confirmed these associations and also indicated an association of Cr with Alb. In the hip aspirate sample, AF4–ICP-MS suggested that Cr was associated with Alb and Tf and that Co was associated with Alb and two unidentified compounds; AEC analysis confirmed the Cr results and the association of Co with Alb and a second compound. Enzymatic digestion of the hip aspirate sample, followed by separation using AF4 with detection by UV absorption (280 nm), multi-angle light scattering and ICP-MS, suggested that the sizes of the Cr-, Co- and Mo-containing wear particles in a hip aspirate sample were in the range 40–150 nm. Off-line spICP-MS was used to confirm these findings for the Co- and Cr-containing nanoparticles. Whilst limited in scope, the results are sufficient to show the interaction of ions with transport proteins and give an indication of particle size, providing useful pathological indices. As such, the methods indicate a new way forward for in vivo investigation of the processes which lead to tissue necrosis and hip loosening in patients with MoM hip replacements.
- Asymmetric flow field-flow fractionation
- Single particle ICP-MS
- Clinical/biomedical analysis
- Anion exchange chromatography
- Metal-on-metal hip replacement