BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2018 19:260

The impact of thermal cycling on Staphylococcus aureus biofilm growth on stainless steel and titanium orthopaedic plates

Margarete K. Akens, Claudia Chien, Ryan N. Katchky, Hans J. Kreder, Joel Finkelstein and Cari M. Whyne
Ankle Elbow Hip Knee Shoulder


Orthopaedic implant infections are difficult to eradicate because bacteria adhering to implant surfaces inhibit the ability of the immune system and antibiotics to combat these infections. Thermal cycling is a temperature modulation process that improves performance and longevity of materials through molecular structural reorientation, thereby increasing surface uniformity. Thermal cycling may change material surface properties that reduce the ability for bacteria to adhere to the surface of orthopaedic implants. This study aims to determine whether thermal cycling of orthopaedic implants can reduce bacterial growth.


In a randomized, blinded in-vitro study, titanium and stainless steel plates treated with thermal cycling were compared to controls. Twenty-seven treated and twenty-seven untreated plates were covered with 10 ml tryptic soy broth containing ~ 105 colony forming units (CFU)/ml of bioluminescent Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus)Xen29 and incubated at 37 °C for 14d. Quantity and viability of bacteria were characterized using bioluminescence imaging, live/dead staining and determination of CFUs.


Significantly fewer CFUs grow on treated stainless steel plates compared to controls (p = 0.0088). Similar findings were seen in titanium plates (p = 0.0048) following removal of an outlier. No differences were evident in live/dead staining using confocal microscopy, or in metabolic activity determined using bioluminescence imaging (stainless steel plates: p = 0.70; titanium plates: p = 0.26).


This study shows a reduction in CFUs formation on thermal cycled plates in-vitro. Further in-vivo studies are necessary to investigate the influence of thermal cycling on bacterial adhesion during bone healing. Thermal cycling has demonstrated improved wear and strength, with reductions in fatigue and load to failure. The added ability to reduce bacterial adhesions demonstrates another potential benefit of thermal cycling in orthopaedics, representing an opportunity to reduce complications following fracture fixation or arthroplasty.

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