SOUTHAMPTON surgeons are using technology developed to test corrosion in the legs of oil rigs to provide tailor-made hip and knee replacements for patients.

The pioneering treatment devised by a team at Southampton General Hospital aims to reduce the amount of surgery needed by patients whose joint replacements have failed.

Rather than just removing and replacing the failed artificial joints, a series of laboratory tests are carried out to establish what triggered complications for the patient to ensure it doesn't happen again.

This orthopaedic profiling system comes at a time of widespread concern over the effectiveness of metal-on-metal hip replacements, with research suggesting that more than a quarter of some devices fail within five years.

Led by Jeremy Latham, a consultant hip surgeon, a team of clinicians, scientists and engineers join forces to run these unique tests to identify why it has gone wrong and how to fit a second joint that will not need replacing.

Mr Latham said: “The past few years have been very difficult, particularly for patients with failing metal-on-metal hip replacements but, by looking in great detail at the reasons why they've gone wrong, we hope, in the future, to be able to tailor treatment to the individual.”

In partnership with Professor Robert Wood, director of the national Centre for Advanced Tribology at the University of Southampton, the team has adopted techniques used to study corrosion in the legs of oil rigs in sea water to help understand the causes of failure in some joint replacements.

They have also used a cutting-edge measuring tool, developed in Southampton, to produce instant 3D readings of wear and damage, while a specialist in surface bacteria is able to examine devices for evidence of hidden infections or allergic reaction which can cause joint replacement failure.

Mr Latham added: “Previously, patients with failed replacements had them removed and then replaced with similar devices. Tests only showed how the devices failed and not why.

“But, with our approach, we hope to be able to build profiles specific to each patient to the point where we can say 'we are sure that a certain type of implant won't work for you because you might react to it, but a different one will work perfectly well because you won't react'.

“It is all about creating bespoke treatment by matching the implant to a patient rather than patient to implant.”