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Reconstruction Relies on Computers and the Right MaterialReconstruction Relies on Computers and the Right Material

Originally Published MDDI November 2004R&D DIGESTReconstruction Relies on Computers and the Right MaterialHeather Thompson

November 1, 2004

3 Min Read
Reconstruction Relies on Computers and the Right Material

Originally Published MDDI November 2004


Reconstruction Relies on Computers and the Right Material

Heather Thompson

George Schuster heads a research team collaborating to improve implants that may be able to regrow tissue. 

Biocompatible materials research is an ongoing process that holds viable promises in the area of reconstructive surgery. Research teams from the Medical College of Georgia (MCG; Augusta, GA) and the Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta) are performing experiments to find better ways to approach facial reconstruction. George Schuster, MD, serves as associate dean for research and is chair of oral biology and maxillofacial pathology in the MCG School of Dentistry. He and his team have been using various materials to reconstruct bone, cartilage, muscle, teeth, and skin for patients who have been disfigured by conditions such as oral cancer. “The ultimate goal,” he says, “is to allow these patients to function normally.”

To begin, researchers from Georgia Tech developed a technology that allows three-dimensional, precise measurements of the reconstruction area. The Anatomically Accurate Reproducible Transfer technology provides the data to reconstruct body structures using advanced computer programs to engineer geometric shapes. It has been used to create various replacement parts. Another computer program uses the accurate measurements to create dental casts and other artificial structures. Schuster explains that the work with Georgia Tech has been vitally important to the project. “The work done by Georgia Tech allows us to manufacture a device that is an exact replica,” he says. “Without that, none of this work would be possible.”

Once the measurements are complete, the team must decide which materials will be best suited to the project. They have used various resins, nonresinous polymers, and even some metals with varying degrees of success. Says Schuster, “The ideal material is structurally sound, but must still be soft enough to be moldable. And, of course, it must be biocompatible.”

The group hopes to find the best version of materials that eventually will be replaced with regular tissue. The casts can be seeded with cells or dissolve to allow normal tissue to grow in its place. “Eventually, these materials should be absorbable or replaceable with living tissue. We've even experimented with the material used for soluble stitching.”

The goal for the researchers is to limit required surgeries for facial reconstruction and get the patient back to a normal appearance. However, Schuster admits practical applications for materials replaceable by living tissue will take many more years of research. “With these materials, [researchers studying facial surgery] could take four to five years just to get consistent results.” Of course, he adds, biocompatible materials are already in use for medical devices, and the Anatomically Accurate Reproducible Transfer process is also being used for less-sensitive surgeries.

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