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Charnley, John

joint orthopaedic replacement head

(1911–82) British orthopaedic surgeon who devised a satisfactory replacement hip joint.

Charnley’s parents were a pharmacist and a nurse, so it is unsurprising that he studied medicine. He specialized in orthopaedic surgery, qualified young and operated throughout his life in the Manchester area where he had always lived.

His career was dominated by one problem, the treatment of the painful and disabling condition of osteoarthritis of the hip joint, common in the elderly. Until his success in the 1960s surgical reconstruction of this joint was, in his words, ‘no great credit to orthopaedic surgery’. In the 1950s he set up a workshop in the attic of his home and a biomedical testing laboratory at the Wrightington Hospital. His systematic studies on possible replacement joint materials and their friction and lubrication led him, by 1963, to settle on a replacement joint consisting of a socket made of the then novel plastic HMWP (high molecular weight polyethylene) in which moved a rather small polished steel head which replaced the diseased head of the patient’s femur. Both were fixed into the bone with acrylic cement. Charnley’s procedure, widely used by him and others, transformed many lives.

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