Medical implants made of biodegradable materials could be advantageous for temporary applications, such as mechanical support during bone-healing or as vascular stents to keep blood vessels open. After completion of the healing process, the implant would disappear, avoiding long-term side effects or the need for surgical removal. Various corrodible metal alloys based on magnesium, iron or zinc have been proposed as sturdier and potentially less inflammatory alternatives to degradable organic polymers, in particular for load-bearing applications. Despite the recent introduction of magnesium-based screws, the remaining hurdles to routine clinical applications are still challenging. These include limitations such as mechanical material characteristics or unsuitable corrosion characteristics. In this article, the salient features and clinical prospects of currently-investigated biodegradable implant materials are summarized, with a main focus on magnesium alloys. A mechanism of action for the stimulation of bone growth due to the exertion of mechanical force by magnesium corrosion products is discussed. To explain divergent in vitro and in vivo effects of magnesium, a novel model for bacterial biofilm infections is proposed which predicts crucial consequences for antibacterial implant strategies.
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