A Brief History of Medical Implants

Did you know that we as a species have been using implants since the time of the Egyptians?  With them it was just dental implants, but it just goes to show you the concept is a very old one.  Major implants didn’t really start happening until the 1800s though.  The 1700s were filled with amputations because of the lack of medical knowledge for stopping infections.  Many sailors who sustained injuries at sea or soldiers wounded on the various battlefields of Europe often saw arms and legs amputated.  Bone diseases were also a major problem with no readily available cure.  This led to a growing desire by doctors to try and replace extremities or deal with diseases that affected bones by using medical implants.

With bone diseases causing so many patients pain, many doctors would simply remove painful parts, but this would remove their mobility.  Many doctors sought an alternative though; one such doctor by the name of Anthony White conducted the first excision arthroplasty in 1821 at Westminister Hospital in London.  The procedure gave the patient renewed mobility and ameliorated the pain, but the mobility only lasted for six years.  One of the biggest challenges to doctors of the time was the lack of precision medical implant manufacturers.  Unlike today where we have the technology to make perfect fitting light weight, non-toxic strong replacements, in the past doctors lacked the knowledge and equipment to make such implants.  This hampered their efforts greatly and left them experimenting with a wide range of materials.  They included but were not limited to wax, decalcified bones, glass and rubber.

As we moved into the 1900s science and medical knowledge began to have breakthroughs in both procedures and materials used in prosthetics.  For example in 1919, Doctor Pierre Delbet used a rubber femoral prosthesis to replace half of the hip joint.  Anesthesia also made these medical procedures easier to conduct.  Previously, speed had been the focus because the patient was awake during the procedure.  With X-Rays available, doctors were able to gain more knowledge of how bones looked before performing surgery and they used more precise tools for performing surgery.  One of the best discoveries of this time was the use of Vitallium for crafting custom prosthesis; it is still used today.

Spinal Implant - Medium sizeAs all of these implants and changes were happening in the medical field it was recognized that oversight of this field was necessary.  Thus congress added the Medical Devices Amendments to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C) in 1976.  Now instead of a doctor just being allowed to stick whatever they want in you to test something they have  to speak with you and use an implant device that is approved by the FDA.  Fortunately for us, medical implant devices continue to advance and most likely will do so as more research is conducted in the field.