Journal of Biomaterials and Nanobiotechnology, 2013, 4, 343-350 Published Online October 2013 ( 343
Impact of Biomechanical Forces on Antibiotics Release
Kinetics from Hydroxyapatite Coated Surgical Fixation
Mirjam Lilja1,2, Jan H. Sörensen3, Torben C. Sörensen4, Maria Åstrand2, Philip Procter5,6,
Hartwig Steckel3*, Maria Strømme1*
1Division for Nanotechnology and Functional Materials, Department of Engineering Sciences, The Ångström Laboratory, Uppsala
University, Uppsala, Sweden; 2Sandvik Coromant AB, Stockholm, Sweden; 3Department of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics,
Christian Albrecht University Kiel, Kiel, Germany; 4Stryker Trauma GmbH, Schönkirchen, Germany; 5Stryker Trauma AG, Selzach,
Switzerland; 6School of Engineering and Design, Brunel University, Uxbridge, UK.
Email: *,
Received July 16th, 2013; revised August 16th, 2013; accepted September 12th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Mirjam Lilja et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License,
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
This work investigates the impact of biomechanical wear and abrasion on the antibiotic release profiles of hydroxyapa-
tite (HA) coated fixation pins during their insertion into synthetic bone. Stainless steel fixation pins are coated with
crystalline TiO2 by cathodic arc evaporation forming the bioactive layer for b iomimetic deposition of Tobramycin con-
taining HA. Tobramycin is either introduced by co-precipitation during HA formation or by adsorption-loading after
HA deposition. The samples containing antibiotics are inserted into bone mimicking polyethylene foam after which the
drug release is monitored using high performance liquid chromatography. This analysis shows that HA coating wear
and delamination significantly decrease the amount of drug released during initial burst, but only marginally influence
the sustained release period. Spalled coating fragments are fo und to remain within the synth etic bone material structu re.
The presence of HA within this structure supports the assumption that the local release of Tobramycin is not only ex-
pected to eliminate bacteria growth directly at the pin interface but as well at some distance from the implant. Further-
more, no negative effect of gamma sterilization could be observed on the drug release profile. Overall, the observed
results demonstrate the feasibility of a multifunctional implant coating that is simultaneously able to locally deliver
clinically relevant doses of antibiotics and an HA coating capable of promoting osteoconduction. This is a potentially
promising step toward orthopaedic devices that co mbine good fixation with the ability to treat an d prevent post-surgical
Keywords: Hydroxyapatite; Fixation Pin; Tobramycin; Coating Wear; Drug Release; Gamma Sterilizati on
1. Introduction
External fixators are commonly used for fracture stabili-
zation in certain trauma patients [1]. The bone-screw
interface has been identified as “the common weak link
in fracture fixation” [2]. Studies report that a rate of pin
loosening up to 80% for standard metal pins and loose
pins affect not only fracture fixation but also cause infec-
tions [3-5]. The concept of applying a biocompatible and
bioactive hydroxyapatite (HA) coating onto metallic im-
plants as functional surface coating has been verified to
be an effective way of improving the bone-pin interface
strength [6-8]. Several animal and clinical studies con-
firmed the osteoconductive properties of HA coatings
resulting in enhanced stability at the pin-bone interface
and hence reduced pin loosening [9-11].
Nanoporous HA coatings deposited biomimetically
(HA-B) have shown promising properties as drug deliv-
ery vehicles [12-20]. Antibacterial drugs eluting from
such HA coatings provide a possibility to combat bacte-
ria at the implant site and hence contribute towards mini-
mizing the risk of implant related infections post-surgery.
Despite excellent properties of HA as a biomaterial, defi-
cient mechanical performance including brittleness, low
tensile strength and impact resistance has restricted its
application in many load-bearing applications [6,7,21].
*Corresponding a uthor.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JBNB
Impact of Biomechanical Forces on Antibiotics Release Kinetics from Hydroxyapatite Coated Surgical Fixation Pins
Plasma sprayed HA coatings (HA-P) have been shown
to delaminate from the implant substrate [22,23] or expel
coating segments [24] due to low cohesive and adhesive
strength. Th e bond strength of HA-P coatings is not only
dependent on the coating characteristics but also on
coating thickness and the type and design of the implant
used [21]. For example, the use of a thin TiO2 bonding
layer connecting the HA-P coating to the metallic im-
plant has been shown to induce strong adhesion of such
coatings to the implant [25].
Despite the poo r biomechanical properties, HA coating
delamination has only been identified in some animal
studies [26]. Delaminated particles were found to be sur-
rounded by bone and not associated with a foreign-body
cell reaction [27].
To date, only a few investigations on the insertion and
wear characteristics of HA coatings are available [28,29].
While the use of HA-B coatings as drug delivery vehicle
has been extensively studied, to the best of our knowl-
edge no attempts have been made to establish a correla-
tion between the insertion characteristics of HA-B coated
implants and the drug release profiles from such implant
The aim of this study is to analyze the impact of bio-
mechanical forces on the HA-B coating wear and corre-
late the latter to the in vitro drug release properties of th e
coatings. To bring the con cept of antibiotic loaded HA-B
coatings on fixation pins further towards clin ical practice,
the release properties of Tobramycin loaded HA-B coated
fixations pins are also evaluated after gamma-steriliza-
2. Material and Methods
2.1. Substrate Materials and Coating Deposition
A crystalline, anatase phase dominated TiO2 coating was
deposited on stainless steel fixation pins (Ø 4 mm, 90
mm × 30 mm), as reported earlier in detail [30]. The pins
were either covered with a biomimetic coating [31] ob-
tained through immersion for 6 days in Dulbecco’s
Phosphate Buffered Saline (PBS), denot e d HA-B, or with
a co-precipitated, drug containing HA coating as de-
scribed by Söre nsen et al. [28] and denoted Co-4.
2.2. Preparation of Drug Loaded Samples
Tobramycin was incorporated into HA-B coated pins
using a previously described adsorptive loading method
[15]. Briefly, two types of drug loading methods were
carried out to produce samples with the extensions “RT”
(room temperature) and “PHT” (pressure and high tem-
perature) to their sample names, respectively. All sam-
ples were made in triplicate for both loading methods
being studied. During RT loading, the HA coated pins
were placed for 5 min in tubes containing 5 ml of To-
bramycin stock solution with a concentration of 20
mg/ml. PHT samples were prepared by placing the HA-
coated pins and 30 ml of stock solution containing 20
mg/ml Tobramycin in a stainless steel tube under an ap-
plied pressure of 6 bar and a temperature of 90˚C. For the
preparation of Co-4 samples, TiO2 coated pins were in a
first step coated with a thin HA layer through immer-
sion for 3 days in 50 ml PBS at 60˚C followed by im-
mersion in PBS with an antibiotic concentration of 4
mg/ml for 6 days at 37˚C. After the loading procedure,
the samples were placed for drying in an oven at 37˚C for
24 hours.
2.3. Insertion into Polyethylene Foam
Biomechanical properties were evaluated using polyure-
thane (25 PU) foam blocks (20 mm × 20 mm × 4 mm)
mimicking spongy bone quality. 25 PU was chosen,
since preliminary tests demonstrated that this particular
grade induced more severe coating wear-effects after
insertion compared to higher density synthetic bone qua-
lities reflecting cancellous bone structures [32]. Three
fixation pins of each sample type were loaded with To-
bramycin via adsorption at room temperature, denoted as
HA-B_RT_BML, or under elevated temperature and
pressure, denoted as HA-B_PHT_BML followed by
biomechanical insertion. Co-precipitated samples de-
noted as Co-4_BML were also tested in triplicate. Inser-
tion was performed vertically without predrilling at a
rotation speed of 50 rotations per minute over the full
thread length of the coated pin. The pin was removed
from the bone model materials by cutting two notches
from both sides into the discs and plates with a distance
of approximate 3 mm towards the center of the pin re-
sulting in two separate pieces of bone model material.
The bone model pieces were subsequently broken into
two halves by applying an abrupt mechanical force, thus
freeing the pin.
2.4. Gamma Sterilization
Gamma Sterizlization of HA-B_PHT samples was car-
ried out by Beta-Gamma-Service GmbH & Co KG,
Wiehl, Germany with a minimum dose of 25.4 kGy and
the sterilized samples were denoted as HA-B_PHT gam-
ma sterilized.
2.5. Antibiotic Release
High performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) was
used to quantify the released drug content as well as the
release kinetics of the three different sample types after
insertions. The measurements were performed and modi-
fied according to the British Pharmacopoeia [33] and
Fabre et al. [34] using pre-column derivatization of the
aminoglycoside antibiotic. Following the insertion into
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JBNB
Impact of Biomechanical Forces on Antibiotics Release Kinetics from Hydroxyapatite Coated Surgical Fixation Pins
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JBNB
3.2. Coating Wear 25 PU foam, the samples were placed in round bottom
test tubes containing 5 ml of PBS at 37˚C. The amount of
Tobramycin released from the samples was measured at
different time points to study both initial and sustained
release properties, in line with previously published pro-
cedures [15].
As visualized by the SEM images in Figure 1, the coat-
ings of all sample types under study were mechanically
affected by insertion into 25 PU foam. The flute of the
fixation pin maintained its “as-deposited” morphology
for all samples types and showed only stochastic areas of
flake off (Figures 1(b), (e) and (h)). Nevertheless, differ-
ences in the coating deterior ation could be observed with
respect to the drug loading method applied. While RT
samples showed preferential HA-B coating delamination
at screw tops (Figures 1(b) and (c)), only minor impact
of the biomechanical forces could be seen on the HA
coating in screw valleys and at the screw tip (Figure 1(a))
for such samples. PHT samples exhibited coating wear
patterns similar to the RT samples (Figures 1(d)-(f)).
However, the coating delamination within the thread
valleys for the PHT samples was somewhat larger (Fig-
ure 1(f)). Drug incorporation via co-precipitation re-
sulted in only minor coating wear after insertion. In com-
parison to adsorptive drug loaded samples, Co-4 samples
exhibited major flake-off at the pin entry site (Figure
1(g)) and only few areas of delamination along the screw
length (Figure 1(i)).
2.6. Characterization
After insertion and drug release tests the durability of th e
HA-B coatings was evaluated with a Supra 40 (Zeiss)
Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). Coating thick-
nesses of the as-deposited samples were measured with
SEM on coating cross sections that were specially cre-
ated using a razor blade. To verify that no Tobramycin
remained in the samples after the release measurements,
the HA-B and Co-4 coatings were dissolved by adding
hydrochloric acid to the release medium (until a pH of 2
was obtained) and analyzing the release medium with
3. Results
3.1. Coating Thickness
SEM analysis of the HA-B coated fixation pins revealed
a coating thickness of approximate 5 - 6 µm, whereas
Co-4 samples exhibited a thickness of only 2.5 - 3 µm, as
described earlier [15,28]. Both sample types possessed
higher thicknesses in the thread valleys while lower val-
ues were measured at the thread crests.
As displayed by the images in Figure 2, the HA-B
coating delaminated from the TiO2 coated pin surface
seems to remain within the porous foam structure. The
white discoloration of the insertion material, Figure 2(a),
represents the HA-B coating delaminating from the pin
during insertion. A higher concentration of HA-B coating
Figure 1. SEM images (scale bars 200 µm) of RT-samples (upper panels), PHT samples (middle panels) and Co-4 samples
(lower panels) after insert ion into 25 PU foam and subsequent drug release in PBS.
Impact of Biomechanical Forces on Antibiotics Release Kinetics from Hydroxyapatite Coated Surgical Fixation Pins
Figure 2. Photo (a) and SEM images (b), (c) of 25 PU foam
after insertion. The insertion direction is indicated by an
arrow (a). SEM images were taken at an insertion depth of
approximate 2 mm from the pin entry point. The scale bars
in panels (a), (b) and (c) are 50 mm, 20 µm and 10 µm,
could be observed at the pin entry side, whereas less
staining of the material could be seen with increasing
insertion depth. HA-B coating flakes could be identified
in the foam structure, as shown by the SEM image taken
at a depth of 2 mm from the pin entry poin t (Figure 2(b)).
Within the foam structure, the delaminated HA-B frag-
ments showed a flake like morphology, which reflects
the “as-deposited” coating morphology [15]. The size of
delaminated HA-B fragments, Figure 2(c), is compara-
ble to those observed during convention al scratch testing
of the TiO2/HA-B coating system [32].
3.3. Drug Release
Tobramycin release profiles were evaluated by HPLC.
For all samples under study, the Tobramycin release can
be described by an initial burst release followed by a
sustained release. The inserted samples (BML) released
significantly lower amounts of drug during the initial 15
minute phase as compared to samples that had not been
inserted into the bone model, Figure 3. The sustained
release, however, seemed to be less effected by the inser-
tion into 25 PU foam. The longest release period under
the prevailing conditions was detected for the PHT
coated samples and lasted for 8 days, followed by PHT_
BML inserted samples showing a release up to 5 days.
The samples loaded at room temperature demonstrated
maximum release duration of 2 days.
The amount of Tobramycin for all sample types was
above the minimum inhibition concentration (MIC) for
Staphylococcus aureus for all time points measured,
which corresponds to a Tobramycin concentration of 1
mg/ml in the release medium [35].
Figure 4 displays the effect of insertion of Co-4
coated pins into 25 PU on the drug release. The biome-
chanical forces significantly impacted the initial burst
release and only slightly decreased the amounts of drug
released at later time points. The total amount of Tobra-
mycin released from the inserted samples was ~35%
lower that the released amount from the Co-4 reference
samples. These reference samples released a detectable
amount of antibiotics for as long as 12 days [28], while
the Co-4_BML samples demonstrated a release period of
8 days. For all time points under study the amounts of
Tobramycin released was above the MIC for S. aureus
for all time points measured.
3.4. Impact of Gamma Sterilization
Figure 5 describes the impact of gamma sterilization on
the amount of Tobramycin released from HA-B_PHT
coated fixation pins. No significant difference between
Figure 3. Non-cumulative amount of Tobramycin released
in 37˚C PBS from HA-B coated pins after RT and PHT
loading in a solution containing 20 mg/ml of the antibiotics
and following insertion into 25 PU foam (BML samples).
Release results from mechanically untreated RT and PHT
samples are incorporated as reference. Error bars denote
the standard deviation of 3 measurements. The average
total amounts of Tobramycin released from each sample
type are also displayed.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JBNB
Impact of Biomechanical Forces on Antibiotics Release Kinetics from Hydroxyapatite Coated Surgical Fixation Pins 347
Figure 4. Non-cumulative amount of Tobramycin released
in 37˚C PBS from Co-4 coated pins after insertion into 25
PU foam (BML samples). Release results from mechanically
untreated Co-4 samples are incorporated as reference.
Error bars denote the standard deviation of 3 measure-
ments. The average total amounts of Tobramycin released
from each sample type ar e also display ed.
Figure 5. Non-cumulative amount of Tobramycin released
in 37˚C PBS from PHT loaded pins after gamma sterili-
zation. Release results from PHT samples are incorporated
as reference. Error bars denote the standard deviation of 3
measurements. The average total amounts of Tobramycin
released from each sample type are also displayed.
the release kinetic from HA-B_PHT and its sterilized
counterpart could be observed. The total release period
lasted for 8 days and as for the samples tested above, the
released amounts were found to be above the MIC of S.
aureus for each time period under study. Furthermore, no
additional peaks were identified in the HPLC analysis
indicating that there is no detectable impact or inactiva-
tion of the drug molecule due to irradiation.
4. Discussion
Functionalizing implant surfaces with bioactive HA coat-
ings has been shown to play an essential role in forming
an intimate contact between the implant and bone [36].
However, for successful clinical implementation of such
coatings the chemical and mechan ical stability of the HA
layer on the implant surface are considered to be impor-
tant criteria [37,38]. Related to mechanical stability of
HA-B coatings and the local release of drugs from such,
the question arises of what would happen at the im-
plant-bone interface in case of coating wear and loss. Th e
data presented in this study confirm that insertion into
bone mimicking foam material induces mechanical wear
of the HA-B coatings. The biomechanical forces during
insertion not only lead to compression and smearing of
the coating but also to partial fragmentation and coating
loosening from the TiO2 covered implant surface at high
stress areas along the thread profile of the pin. While the
total amount of coating wear is known to be dependent
on the insertion torque and the total distance that the im-
plant is moved when in contact with bone [29], also the
bone properties have been shown to influence the forces
required in screw insertion and pullout [29-41]. In agree-
ment with literature [42], SEM images of the investigated
sample types confirmed a high value of stresses at the pin
entry site and at the thread tops giving rise to HA-B
coating deterioration.
The observed coating wear led to a decrease of the
amount of Tobramycin released for all sample types in-
vestigated, with the most significant reduction, ~50%,
stemming from the initial burst period of the release.
This shows that a substantial amount of antibiotics is su-
perficially incorporated into the HA-B coating during
loading by adsorption in agreement with earlier findings
[15]. During the sustained release period following the
initial burst, insertion-induced wear had only minor ef-
fects on the drug release process governed by released
from deeper sections of the coating.
Co-precipitated samples suffered less coating wear-off
than HA samples that were drug loaded after coating
fabrication. This difference in coating wear may be re-
lated to the coating growth condition s, which could result
in different mechanical coating properties or be con-
nected to the lower coating thickness of the co-precipi-
tated Co-4 samples [28]. The delaminated HA coating
was found to remain within the synthetic bone material-
for all sample types. During in vivo bone insertion, the
screw design, the friction at the coating interface as well
as the bone density will be factors influencing the inser-
tion torque and coating wear properties [43]. In fact,
blood and fatty substances in vivo may act as lubricants
and, hence, contribute to reducing the dry conditions
prevailing at HA coating wear during insertion into syn-
thetic bone [44]. Also, the delaminated HA fragments are
still in place within the bone and will contribute posi-
tively to the antibiotic effect. Furthermore, the rather
smooth topography of biomimetic HA coatings [15]
could present an additional advantage to minimize inser-
tion torques as well as to minimize heat evolution during
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JBNB
Impact of Biomechanical Forces on Antibiotics Release Kinetics from Hydroxyapatite Coated Surgical Fixation Pins
5. Conclusion
The impact on Tobramycin release and coating wear of
insertion into synthetic bone of fixation pins functional-
ized with antibiotics containing biomimetic HA coatings
has been investigated. The investigated coatings were
either prepared by co-precipitated of antibiotics during
HA formation or by adsorption loading with antibiotics
post HA deposition. All coatings under study were af-
fected by insertion into the 25 PU synthetic bone material;
at high stress areas of the pin surface coating delamina-
tion was observed leading to a significant reduction in
the amount of antibiotics released in vitro during the first
15 minutes of release. However, the insertion had only
minor effects on the sustained drug release period lasting
for 5 and 8 days, respectively, for the adsorption-loaded
and co-precipitation-deposited coatings. The delaminated
coating fragments were found to remain within the syn-
thetic bone material structure. Hence, the in vitro ob-
served reduction of the initial burst effect will most likely
not prevail in vivo and the sustained release is expected
to not only eliminate bacteria directly at the pin surface
but also at some distance from the implant. With respect
to the higher concentration of delaminated HA coating
found at the pin entry site of the bone model materials, a
high concentration of antibiotic can be expected to be
delivered at the insertion point of the implant. The pin
entry site is a likely pathway for bacteria to infiltrate
during and post-surgery, hence, a high local concentra-
tion at this site is potentially be neficial. The drug release
profile of all HA coated implants under study was further
shown to be unaffected by gamma sterilization. This de-
monstrates that the incorporation of drugs into nanopor-
ous HA coatings represents a feasible approach even
when producing functional, therapeutic coatings, where
the drugs are industrially-incorporated into the device
(drug/device combination product).
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