QUESTION/PURPOSE: Does a controlled deep-freezing temperature during irradiation help preserve the compressive mechanical properties of human femoral cortical bone allografts?
METHODS: Cortical bone cube samples, each measuring 64 mm3, were cut from the mid-diaphyseal midshaft of five fresh-frozen cadaver femurs (four male donors, mean [range] age at procurement 42 years [42 to 43]) and were allocated via block randomization into one of three experimental groups (with equal numbers of samples from each donor allocated into each group). Each experimental group consisted of 20 bone cube samples. Samples irradiated in dry ice were subjected to irradiation doses ranging from 26.7 kGy to 27.1 kGy (mean 26.9 kGy) at a deep-freezing temperature below -40°C (the recommended long-term storage temperature for allografts). Samples irradiated in gel ice underwent irradiation doses ranging from 26.2 kGy and 26.4 kGy (mean 26.3 kGy) in a freezing temperature range between -40°C and 0°C. Acting as controls, samples in a third group were not subjected to gamma irradiation. The mechanical properties (0.2% offset yield stress, ultimate compression stress, toughness, and the Young modulus) of samples from each group were subsequently evaluated via axial compression loading to failure along the long axis of the bone. The investigators were blinded to sample group during compression testing.
RESULTS: The mean ultimate compression stress (84 ± 27 MPa versus 119 ± 31 MPa, mean difference 35 [95% CI 9 to 60]; p = 0.005) and toughness (3622 ± 1720 kJ/m3 versus 5854 ± 2900 kJ/m3, mean difference 2232 [95% CI 70 to 4394]; p = 0.009) of samples irradiated at a higher temperature range (-40°C to 0°C) were lower than in those irradiated at deep-freezing temperatures (below -40°C). The mean 0.2% offset yield stress (73 ± 28 MPa versus 109 ± 38 MPa, mean difference 36 [95% CI 11 to 60]; p = 0.002) and ultimate compression stress (84 ± 27 MPa versus 128 ± 40 MPa, mean difference 44 [95% CI 17 to 69]; p < 0.001) of samples irradiated at a higher temperature range (-40°C to 0°C) were lower than the nonirradiated control group samples. The mean 0.2% offset yield stress (73 ± 28 MPa versus 101 ± 28 MPa, mean difference 28 [95% CI 3 to 52]; p = 0.02; effect size = 1.0 [95% CI 0.8 to 1.2]) of samples irradiated at higher temperature range (-40°C to 0°C) were no different with the numbers available to those irradiated at deep-freezing temperature. The mean toughness (3622 ± 1720 kJ/m3 versus 6231 ± 3410 kJ/m3, mean difference 2609 [95% CI 447 to 4771]; p = 0.02; effect size = 1.0 [95% CI 0.8 to 1.2]) of samples irradiated at higher temperature range (-40°C to 0°C) were no different with the numbers available to the non-irradiated control group samples. The mean 0.2% offset yield stress, ultimate compression stress, and toughness of samples irradiated in deep-freezing temperatures (below -40°C) were not different with the numbers available to the non-irradiated control group samples. The Young modulus was not different with the numbers available among the three groups.
CONCLUSION: In this study, maintenance of a deep-freezing temperature below -40°C, using dry ice as a cooling agent, consistently mitigated the adverse effects of irradiation on the monotonic-compression mechanical properties of human cortical bone tissue. Preserving the mechanical properties of a cortical allograft, when irradiated in a deep-freezing temperature, may have resulted from attenuation of the deleterious, indirect effects of gamma radiation on its collagen architecture in a frozen state. Immobilization of water molecules in this state prevents radiolysis and the subsequent generation of free radicals. This hypothesis was supported by an apparent loss of the protective effect when a range of higher freezing temperatures was used during irradiation.
CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Deep-freezing temperatures below -40°C during gamma irradiation may be a promising approach to better retain the native mechanical properties of cortical bone allografts. A further study of the effect of deep-freezing during gamma radiation sterilization on sterility and other important biomechanical properties of cortical bone (such as, tensile strength, fracture toughness, and fatigue) is needed to confirm these findings.