Given the long-term problem of polyethylene wear, medical interest in the new improved cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE), with or without the adding of vitamin E, has risen. The main aim of this study is to gain further insights into the mutual effects of radiation cross-linking and addition of vitamin E on the wear performance of ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). We tested four different batches of polyethylene (namely, a standard one, a vitamin E-stabilized, and two cross-linked) in a hip joint simulator for five million cycles where bovine calf serum was used as lubricant. The acetabular cups were then analyzed using a confocal profilometer to characterize the surface topography. Moreover; the cups were analyzed by using Fourier Transformed Infrared Spectroscopy and Differential Scanning Calorimetry in order to assess the chemical characteristics of the pristine materials. Comparing the different cups’ configuration, mass loss was found to be higher for standard polyethylene than for the other combinations. Mass loss negatively correlated to the cross-link density of the polyethylenes. None of the tested formulations showed evidence of oxidative degradation. We found no correlation between roughness parameters and wear. Furthermore, we found significantly differences in the wear behavior of all the acetabular cups. XLPEs exhibited lower weight loss, which has potential for reduced wear and decreased osteolysis. However, surface topography revealed smoother surfaces of the standard and vitamin E stabilized polyethylene than on the cross-linked samples. This observation suggests incipient crack generations on the rough and scratched surfaces of the cross-linked polyethylene liners.
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