Today, more than 200 years after the first production of metallic magnesium by Sir Humphry Davy in 1808, biodegradable magnesium-based metal implants are currently breaking the paradigm in biomaterial science to develop only highly corrosion resistant metals. This groundbreaking approach to temporary metallic implants is one of the latest developments in biomaterials science that is being rediscovered. It is a challenging topic, and several secrets still remain that might revolutionize various biomedical implants currently in clinical use. Magnesium alloys were investigated as implant materials long ago. A very early clinical report was given in 1878 by the physician Edward C. Huse. He used magnesium wires as ligature for bleeding vessels. Magnesium alloys for clinical use were explored during the last two centuries mainly by surgeons with various clinical backgrounds, such as cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and general surgery. Nearly all patients benefited from the treatment with magnesium implants. Although most patients experienced subcutaneous gas cavities caused by rapid implant corrosion, most patients had no pain and almost no infections were observed during the postoperative follow-up. This review critically summarizes the in vitro and in vivo knowledge and experience that has been reported on the use of magnesium and its alloys to advance the field of biodegradable metals.

This paper was originally published in Acta Biomaterialia, 6(3), Pages 1680–1692.

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