Intelligent materials and a magnetic field can revolutionize the repair of bone malformations
Soon a painless bone lengthening treatment may become available. At the Aalto University Department of Electronics, development of bioadaptive prototypes is under way for correcting malformations of the skull and the jawbone and to reshape the bone structure in the treatment of scoliosis.
With a magnetic field and intelligent material reacting to it, painless correction of malformations of the bone structure would be possible without repeated surgery.
The undertaking is a continuation for a project which started in 2008 and in which a prototype for the lengthening of limbs was developed. The patient's limb would be placed in a device producing a magnetic field, and intelligent material installed under the skin would react to the field and expand approximately one millimetre per day. The limb would lengthen painlessly, and the treatment would take only few minutes each day.
− Prototypes based on the same technology are now being developed for a different part of the human body. A demonstration dealing with the lengthening of the jawbone has already been prepared, project researchers Harri Hallila and Juha Haaja explain.
Jawbone lengthening is used, for example, to correct serious misalignment of teeth (malocclusion) or as a treatment for a receding jawbone partially blocking the airway. Hallila and Haava think that the methods could be introduced to clinical use in about five years time, the limb lengthening method somewhat earlier.
Doing away with repetitive surgery
At the moment, bone lengthening treatment is painful and often requires many surgical operations.
̶ The instruments used today in jawbone lengthening operations always pierce the skin, either inside the mouth or outside the head. In the surgical treatment of skull malformations, the patient usually must be operated on the surgeon's table: the skin is folded back, the skull is cut in parts and then assembled, piece by piece, to a new form.
The researchers tell that when treating childhood scoliosis, two bars are attached, with screws, to the vertebra of the column. The bars are supported with cables to each other. Normally, the operation is done already when the child is under school age, to ensure that the back will become straight. On the other hand, the treatment limits the growth of the child, and it is for this reason that sometimes the patient must undergo a surgery every half year. The screws must be loosened and the bars lengthened regularly. The treatment takes many years.
Thanks to the magnetic field and the intelligent material reacting to it, the devices used in the treatment could be placed entirely within the skin, and thus an end could be put to risky operations. In practice, there would be two surgical operations – when the device is inserted under the skin and when it is removed.
− There would be no need to open up the back of the scoliosis patient in order to lengthen the bars; the patient wouldn't need to keep shuttling to and from the surgeries anymore
The project to develop treatment devices for scoliosis and for malformations of the skull and the jawbone will be carried out jointly with HUS and the Orton Foundation. In addition to Hallila and Haaja, Antti Ritvanen and Taneli Kari are the project researchers at the Aalto University Department of Electronics; Vesa Vuorinen is the project manager and Professor Mervi Paulasto-Kröckel the accountable manager. The project is funded by Tekes, Orton and Aalto University. Planmeca, Adaptamat and Protoshop are the company partners.
Text: Tea Kalska
Photos: Adolfo Vera