Developing a method for the early detection of joint degeneration in the jaw region, the Clemson-MUSC Joint Bioengineering Program will be providing a way to prevent widespread joint disorders, particularly for temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.
“In contrast to other joints, attempts to surgically reconstruct the TMJ have resulted in severe disabilities,” says Hai Yao, Ph.D., associate professor of bioengineering at Clemson University and craniofacial biology at MUSC, and principal investigator for this project funded by the National Institutes of Health. “Thus, early diagnosis and management are critical.”
According to The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), approximately 35 million Americans suffer from TMJ disorders, causing pain in and around the jaw joint and nearby muscles affecting a person’s ability to eat, chew, swallow, make facial expressions and breathe, with health care costs up to $4 billion.
Yao is collaborating with Elizabeth Slate, Ph.D., a Duncan McLean and Pearl Levine Fairweather professor in the Department of Statistics at Florida State University, to advance the early diagnosis of human joint degeneration, specifically in the TMJ, and develop a measuring system to understand the relationship between jaw loading, nutrient concentration profiles and metabolic rates in the TMJ.
|Greg Wright, Ph.D. candidate (left), and Dr. Hai Yao|
“Today, there is not a method for early detection of TMJ degeneration,” says Slate. “We are developing a novel, integrated and dynamic measuring system to determine patient-specific bio-indicators for early diagnosis of TMJ degeneration.”
The researchers suspect that by understanding the impact of mechanical loading, they will establish a foundation to explain the biomechanical etiology of TMJ disorders, which will lead to identifying potential metabolic bio-indicators of early TMJ degeneration.
Using an innovative and multi-scale approach, the researchers are integrating joint imaging and kinematics, cartilage tissue mechanics and cell metabolism, which will produce data that characterizes the effect of dynamic contact mechanics on cell behavior as a contributing factor to the fatigue failure of tissues.
“Such data has never before been collected from living humans,” says Yao.
The outcomes of this project will closely address the current clinical barriers for treating TMJ disorders will lead to an applicable clinical diagnostic tool for early TMJ degeneration.
Yao and his team have also established a nationally recognized TMJ bioengineering research program within the Clemson-MUSC Joint Bioengineering Program. NIDCR awarded the program a grant to establish a multi-institutional TMJ research network, which may lead to a national center for TMJ research.
Brian M. Mullen is public information director for research at Clemson University.