Engineers prove their medical metal

March 22, 1996

The invasion of the engineers into medicine continued this week as a bio-engineer revealed a device that makes broken bones mend quicker.

The device was displayed as part of SET96, national science week. It will soon be used to mend fractured kneecaps by inserting it into the bone with a small drill. The procedure will take ten minutes and require only a local anaesthetic - although its inventor recommends a blindfold as well.

The gadget is the latest application of "memory metals", alloys that change to a predetermined shape when heated.

Tony Anson, a former lecturer at Brunel University, and other researchers, realised a few years ago that this property could be exploited in surgery. A device shaped for easy insertion into the body would then warm up to body temperature, triggering a change to a pre-programmed shape.

Mr Anson, now of Anson Medical, based in Brunel's science park, is working with surgeons to apply memory metals to fractures. Once in the bone the metals shrink and bind the fragmented bone.

Mr Anson was demonstrating his invention at the first UK Spin-Off conference, a SET96 activity held by the British National Space Centre to demonstrate technology developed for space research that has subsequently found a terrestrial use.

Memory metals were developed to do odd jobs in space for scientists who could control them by altering their temperatures from earth.

The conference also heard that a microwave detector would help predict the weather next year when it measures humidity from space. Scientists at Leicester University and Matra Marconi are hoping to develop the technology to image the body by detecting tiny amounts of microwave radiation given out by human cells.

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