Biomedical engineers at Columbia University have been successful in using stem cells to grow grafts of bone in the shape of the TM joint. As Dr. Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic who heads the team remarked in a National Institutes of Health interview:
"Today, surgeons typically extract a piece of rib or bone from your leg. They then very precisely carve the bone in the surgery room, reinsert it into the problem area, and wrap muscle around the graft to cushion it and enhance blood flow. It’s just not the optimal approach. That’s why I don’t want to settle for incremental improvement. That said, I’m not talking here about engineering a huge, integral graft. We are looking at the pieces that are most needed. We also are looking very much into a modular approach, so that you can sort of construct what you need from individual pieces and make the surgeon’s life easier. You always try to make a difference. I want to change the way people are reconstructing bone."
This research will someday help patients who have had TMJ implants or may be contemplating implant surgery down the road. The bioengineered bone grafts are currently being tested in an animal model, but Dr. Vunjak-Novakovic believes the commercial technology is only a few years away. Click here to read more about this research.
Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, Ph.D. is a professor of biomedical engineering and a professor of medicine at Columbia University in New York, where she serves as director of Columbia’s Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering and is the co-director of the Craniofacial Regeneration Center. Dr. Vunjak-Novakovic also is an associate director of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Resource Center for Tissue Engineering.