Stabilisation of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene with Vitamin E
Ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) has been the material of choice for load-bearing articular components used in total joint arthroplasty in the past 30 years. However, the durability of the whole implant has often been compromised by oxidation of UHMWPE components. Since the use of a suitable, biocompatible stabilizer would minimize this inconvenience, the possibility of adding synthetic Vitamin E to medical grade UHMWPE is currently under investigation.
In the present work, medical grade UHMWPE was blended with 0.05, 0.1 or 0.5 w/w% of α-tocopherol and consolidated by compression moulding. Small blocks of reference UHMWPE and of each blend were then gamma irradiated to 30 or 100 kGy. FTIR spectroscopy was used to monitor changes in both the polymer and the additive. Thin sections of virgin and α-tocopherol doped UHMWPE irradiated and unirradiated were aged in a ventilated oven at 90 °C and the kinetic of oxidation was followed by FTIR. In addition, CL-imaging curves were recorded at 180 °C on both irradiated and unirradiated samples.
Phenol loss is observed in all the α-tocopherol doped samples upon irradiation. Hypotheses on the rearrangements of the additive structure include the formation of quinonoid products. Nevertheless, all the additive-containing samples exhibit better oxidation resistance compared to the virgin material, indicating stabilizing activity of the α-tocopherol derivatives.