Patients who have suffered facial trauma or bone loss are often faced with difficulties chewing, speaking, swallowing, or even breathing. While the aesthetics of facial reconstruction are important, the ability to restore adequate function to the face is imperative. Researchers at the University of Illinois and the Ohio State University Medical center have applied a new technique to create custom-made implants for both form and function.
Based on its design and composition, the face is by far the most complicated part of the human skeleton. According to Glaucio Paulino, the Donald Biggar Willett Professor of Engineering at University of Illinois, mid-face reconstruction is difficult due to the unique shape and functions of the bones, as well as its high exposure to bacteria through the mouth and sinuses.
Reconstructive surgeons traditionally graft bones from other parts of a patient’s body to sculpt the skull portion. Considering bone density and shape differs greatly throughout other parts of the body, patients also suffer cosmetically as well and functionally following facial reconstruction. The two universities applied an extensive type of 3-D modeling, called topology optimization, to design the custom implants. Topology optimization is primarily used to engineer skyscrapers and automobile parts, however, may become advantageous to the medical industry.
The technology helps engineers to create pieces that meet high aesthetic standards while performing at optimal levels. Topology optimization is ideal when paired with facial reconstruction, allowing engineers to develop patient-specific bone replacements with precision. The engineering process calculates different variables including blood flow, chewing forces, soft tissue support and sinus cavities.
The researchers aspire to adopt topology optimization in the future for the purpose of tissue engineering. If successful, tissue and bone can be recreated for different parts of the body that require reconstruction. Such progression in medical technology could prospectively supersede the necessity for bone grafting from a patient or cadaver.