The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is where the jawbone connects to the skull, and according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, nearly 11 million Americans suffer from TMJ disorders.
Though the precise cause of many TMJ disorders remains a mystery, symptoms can range from minor and occasional pain due to clenching the jaw or grinding the teeth to severe, debilitating pain that requires hospitalization or surgery. Because the TMJ is essential for basic functions like speaking, chewing and swallowing, TMJ disorders can seriously degrade people's quality of life and lead to severe depression.
A central feature of the TMJ is a thin sheet of cartilage about the size of a postage stamp that sits between the mandible and the skull. Called the TMJ disc, this sliver of cartilage cannot heal itself if it is injured or damaged. Approximately 70 percent of all TMJ disorders result from TMJ disc displacement, and there are no synthetic materials that can replace a damaged or injured TMJ disc.
Rice's new TMJ tissue engineering program aims to develop methods for growing replacement TMJ discs that can be implanted without risk of rejection because they will be grown from a patient's own cells.
"Our project marks the first time that a research group has tried to engineer the entire TMJ disc in vitro in the laboratory," said Kyriacos Athanasiou, the Karl F. Hasselmann Professor of Bioengineering at Rice and the principal investigator on the NIH grant. "This is a tall order because there is scant information about what the TMJ disc is, what it is made of, what its functions are, what its pathologies are and how its
Contact: Jade Boyd