As astounding as it may seem, it is now within the realm of science--not science fiction--to regrow tissues such as bone, cartilage, muscle, teeth and skin. A new Medical College of Georgia/Georgia Institute of Technology partnership is refining this technology to treat facial deformities caused by conditions such as cancer, trauma and congenital defects.
"It's hard to overstate the impact on functioning and quality of life when the face is disfigured," said Dr. George Schuster, associate dean for research and chair of oral biology and maxillofacial pathology in the MCG School of Dentistry. Cancer patients, for instance, may lose all or parts of their tongue, nose or jaw to the disease. A car accident may shatter vital facial structures. A congenital defect may stall the growth of the jaw, or abnormally speed the growth of the skull.
Prostheses--artificial body structures made from materials such as plastics and silicone--can greatly enhance functioning and quality of life, but they are imperfect and generally require ongoing refinements, Dr. Schuster said. "The prostheses can be very good--in fact, it can be easier to spot a prosthesis in a photograph rather than on the actual patient--but we now know it's possible to reconstruct parts of the face with living tissue."
The Georgia Tech Dental Technology Center is applying expertise in areas such as geometry, engineering and computer technology to spur the process. Using technology called Anatomically Accurate Reproducible Transfer, an oral surgeon can glean exact measurements to reconstruct or create facial structures. The computer then uses those measurements to create dental casts and other artificial structures.
"Now that we can prefabricate these casts that have been precisely measured to the patient, we can insert them and ideally complete treatment in a single surgery rather than rely on the multi-stage treatment currently available," Dr. Schuster said.
Even more remarkable, the surgeon can use the cast to spur new tissue growth. Dr. Schuster and his colleagues have spent years developing materials with this capacity.
"The key issue is the interaction of cell surfaces with the materials," Dr. Schuster said, noting that factors such as a material's composition, charge, breakdown characteristics and adherence affect its interaction with cells. "In addition, some materials can be modified to stimulate or retard growth or behavior of certain cell types."
The collaboration will enable MCG scientists to begin testing the materials on patients.
"We're moving toward regeneration through tissue engineering," Dr. Schuster said. "The casts can either be seeded with cells or simply implanted and allowed to be slowly absorbed by natural tissue and replaced by natural material. The idea is to rehabilitate patients to a state of normalcy."
Source: Eurekalert & othersLast reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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