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Biotribological Investigation of Cartilage

Tribology combines the studies of friction, wear and lubrication. In biomedical research, tribology is employed to understand naturally occurring motions between tissues (e.g. joint surfaces) and organs (e.g. pleural tissue during breathing), but also for artificially created boundaries between natural and implant surfaces (e.g. hip implants). In order to improve the surface properties of implant materials it is crucial to understand the properties of the natural material before a suitable substitute can be developed.

Cartilage is a prominent example for a tissue which is constantly exposed to friction forces and for which a suitable surrogate material is still missing. Many research groups worldwide try to mimic the tribological properties of native cartilage. Yet, our understanding of the microscopic principles that constitute the unique material properties of cartilage is still limited. Hyaline cartilage lines the articular surfaces of joints and provides long-lasting ultralow friction and negligible wear under various velocities and normal loads. However, 27 million people in the United States suffer from osteoarthritis, a degeneration of articular cartilage.

Thus, there is a high demand for a cartilage substitute material that reproduces or at least approximates the tribological properties of cartilage. For an adequate surrogate material design, reliable test setups are needed that allow for a detailed characterization of the tribological properties of native cartilage.

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