Engineers Create Better Fix For Broken Jaws

From Live Science By Karen Wentworth, University of New Mexico posted: 18 April 2008 ET  Photo UNM Communication and Marketing.
Surgeon Jon Wagner holds plastic casts of fractured jaws. Wagner builds the casts and uses them to plan a surgery before going into an operation.     Surgeon Jon Wagner holds plastic casts of fractured jaws. Wagner builds the casts and uses them to plan a surgery before going into an operation.     Ph.d. student Scott Lovald has formed Satryn Biotechnologies to manufacture the improved plates.     Drawing of the improved plate. Credit: Scott Lovald This Behind the Scenes article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.      It didn’t start as an engineering problem. It started as a patient problem.     Jon Wagner, a head and neck surgeon at the University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH), sees a lot of broken jaws. More than 400 of them a year roll through the doors of the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the state.     When Wagner and the other trauma surgeons repair jaws they use heavy titanium plates, bending them to bridge the breaks with a combination of heavy tools and brute force. The plates are fixed to the jawbones with screws, usually inserted through the mouth. It is an invasive process and up to 20 percent of the patients have serious enough complications to require a follow-up surgery.     The mechanics of the process bothered Wagner so much that he started tinkering with the plates in his garage, looking for a way to make them smaller and lighter, but still with some assurance they would stand up to the stresses his mostly young, mostly male patients would place on them. He was getting nowhere until he went across campus to talk to the mechanical engineers.     Once Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Tariq Khraishi and his graduate student Scott Lovald understood what Wagner needed, the lights came on. It really was an engineering problem. Wagner was looking for smaller, better-designed plates he could use with confidence that there was good science behind them.     Lovald and Khraishi went to the computer, running simple experiments with a finite element modeling program initially developed with research money from the National Science Foundation. The research has been commercialized and is now the basis of a variety of software programs used by engineers.

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