In orthopaedic practice, fractures are usually stabilised with metal screws or rods. This is done in order to keep the fracture parts in place during the rather slow healing process. The healing time can potentially be reduced by local- or systemic treatment with different bone promoting drugs. In later years, lithium, otherwise used to treat bipolar disease, has shown promise to be such a drug.
The aim of this master thesis was to find a way to coat metal bone screws with lithium and to characterise the coating. The coating was to be designed in such a way that it could release lithium to the surrounding bone tissue.
Lithium chloride was incorporated into a titanate sol-gel and attached to silicon wafers and stainless steel screws by dip coating. Wafers were used for initial in vitro studies of how lithium changed coating characteristics. This was studied using ellipsometry, AFM and SEM. Lithium is most probably physisorbed and not incorporated into the network building up the sol-gel. Coating structure is changed as more lithium is incorporated. For large amounts of lithium, the nanoparticles normally formed when curing the sol-gel are inhibited. One effect of this is reduced bioactivity, seen as a reduced ability for calcium phosphate crystals to nucleate on the coating when immersed in simulated body fluid.
Lithium release was investigated using AAS. Lithium is released from the coating, showing a burst effect. By changing the number of coating layers used, the release profile can be partly altered. The coating was also applied to screws, showing good attachment, and the lithium release profile was similar to the one seen from wafers.
Finally, a screw model was used in rats to assess the effect of local lithium treatment from screws and systemic lithium treatment on fracture healing. In the model, a screw was inserted in tibia, mimicking a fracture. When the bone around the screw was healed, a pullout test was performed, giving information about the strength of the bone surrounding the screw. No significant difference could be found for either local- or systemic lithium treatment compared to control. However, when evaluating the strength of intact bone in a similar way, a positive effect of systemic lithium treatment could be seen. Therefore, it is still likely that lithium has a positive effect on bone and further studies are needed to fully evaluate its role in fracture healing.