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Image of the Week: Artificial Knee Joint

26 Sep, 2014

B0000523 SEM cobalt chrome tibial tray/artificial knee

Perhaps you see vessels or worm-like structures when looking at our image this week. Or perhaps it looks more like synthetic fibres or metal wires. There’s something quite beautiful about it but also something a little bit unsettling.

Is this a photo of something man-made or organic? You could say it is both! It is part of an artificial knee joint, photographed under a Scanning Electron Microscope. This particular part is called a tibial tray, and attaches to the shin bone (tibia) to help keep the joint stable. This type of knee replacement has what’s known as a porous coated design – you can see gaps between the sections of metal, which allows bone to grow into the replacement joint, reducing the chances of the artificial limb being displaced or becoming unstable. It allows the synthetic and the organic to merge together.

The photo was taken after the artificial knee joint was removed from a patient during surgery and replaced with a new one. Surgery would have taken around three hours and is a larger undertaking than the original knee replacement. We can see the structure so clearly because the tissue has been digested, allowing the metal to be visible. However, traces of the tissue can still be seen. They are a reminder that we are seeing something that was once an important component of someone’s body – part man-made, part organic.

Image Credit: EM Unit, UCL Medical School, Royal Free Campus, Wellcome Images

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. Over 100,000 high resolution images from our historical collections are now free to use under the Creative Commons-Attribution only (CC-BY) licence.

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