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Facial trauma and bone loss often times results in difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or even breathing for patients. Facial reconstruction is not just important for cosmetic purposes, but for the overall function of a person’s face. Thanks to the University of Illinois and the Ohio State University Medical Center, facial reconstruction patients may soon have the option to have custom-made facial implants that are designed for both form and function.

The face is one of the most complex parts of the skeleton. According to Glaucio Paulino, the Donald Biggar Willett Professor of Engineering at University of Illinois, “what makes mid-face reconstruction more complicated is its unusual unique shape and functions, and its location in an area susceptible to high contamination with bacteria.”

Traditionally, surgeons will graft bones from other parts of the body to create the missing skull portion. Since bones from other areas of the body are very different from that of the face, the patient is often left with reduced function or cosmetic imperfections. The interdisciplinary research team applied an engineering design technique called topology optimization, which uses extensive 3-D modeling, to design the new implants. The technology is often used to engineer high-rise buildings and car parts, amongst other things.

Topology optimization helps engineers to design pieces that support weight and function while meeting high aesthetic standards. The technique is obviously an adequate pairing for facial reconstruction and would create patient-specific bone replacements with great accuracy. Variables such as blood flow, sinus cavities chewing forces and soft tissue support would be calculated during the engineering process.

The researchers hope to successfully translate the artificial method into future tissue engineering for other surgical possibilities.
“This technique has the potential to pave the way toward development of tissue engineering methods to create custom fabricated living bone replacements in optimum shapes and amounts,” Paulino said.

These advances in reconstructive technology may one day replace any need for bone grafting from alternate bones in a patient or from a donor.