Tributes paid to engineer who co-created the Exeter Hip

·3-min read

Tributes have been paid to a pioneering engineer who co-created an implant that has revolutionised hip replacements for millions of people across the world.

Professor Clive Lee, from the University of Exeter, was one of the two masterminds behind the Exeter Hip, which research shows is among the world’s most successful hip implants globally.

He died on November 2 at the age of 82 following a long illness.

Prof Lee created the hip alongside Professor Robin Ling and their ground-breaking design overcame a problem of previous hip implants, which often required further surgery after they became loose (University of Exeter/PA).
Professor Clive Lee created the Exeter Hip alongside Professor Robin Ling (University of Exeter/PA)

Prof Lee created the hip alongside Professor Robin Ling, and their groundbreaking design overcame a problem of previous hip implants, which often required further surgery after they became loose.

Previous prosthetic hips had been designed with the idea that the implant should remain rigidly fixed to the acrylic bone cement in which it is implanted.

Prof Ling and Prof Lee’s revolutionary design did not have a collar between the neck and the stem of the implant. This allowed the stem to subside slightly into the acrylic, self-tightening as it did so.

The design made best use of the material properties of the polymer when bearing weight as the person moved on their new hip, helping many people remain free of pain, and significantly reducing the number of follow-up revision surgeries needed.

First fitted in 1970, the simple yet effective design has been implanted in more than two million patients worldwide, with one million happening in the last 10 years alone.

Earlier this year, 80-year-old Devon pensioner Maureen Brown was revealed to have the longest-lasting Exeter Hip – at 50 years.

Speaking last year, as the implant marked its 50th anniversary, Prof Lee spoke of his pride at his creation’s longevity and success.

“I started out not really knowing what a total hip replacement should look like – that was probably a huge advantage,” he said.

“We designed a very simple structure, and it turned out that going back to basic principles worked out very well indeed.

“We were aiming for a hip replacement that would last perhaps eight or nine years, and that would benefit patients locally.

“It’s a huge testament to the Exeter team and the university and NHS working together that it’s had such fantastic success. It’s a source of great pride.”

Professor Janice Kay, Provost of the University of Exeter, said: “We’re so sorry to hear of the passing of Clive Lee, a pioneering innovator and a wonderful man, and send sincere condolences to his family and all who knew him.

“We’re extremely proud of his legacy in improving pain-free mobility to millions of people across the world.

“The partnership between Clive, Robin Ling and many others really shows the incredible feats we can achieve when universities and the NHS work together.”

Prof Lee was born in 1939 and schooled in Solihull, going on to study mechanical engineering at the University of Nottingham and completing a PhD in 1965.

He joined the University of Exeter in 1966 and remained at the institution until retirement.

He is survived by his wife Pamela, son Philip and daughter Caroline.

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