Rice cartilage experts win $1.5M NIH grant to bioengineer TMJ discs

December 09, 2004

HOUSTON, Dec. 9, 2004 -- Bioengineers at Rice University have received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop new methods of using a patient's own cells to grow replacement cartilage for surgical implantation in patients suffering from TMJ disorders.

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 pathologies develop."

Athanasiou's Musculoskeletal Bioengineering Laboratory specializes in growing cartilage tissues. There are projects under way to grow articular cartilage -- which accounts for about half of all cartilage in the body -- as well as more specialized types like the knee meniscus. Like the TMJ disc, the knee meniscus is a disc that separates bones in a major joint. Both the TMJ disc and the knee meniscus are unique, with different properties than any other cartilage in the body, but unlike the meniscus, the properties of the TMJ disc -- its compressive and tensile stiffness, for example, or the proportion and types of collagen it contains -- are largely unknown.

Athanasiou and colleagues have been laying the groundwork for the TMJ tissue engineering program for four years. Earlier this year, he and his students published a review of the complex biochemical, biomechanical and cellular properties of the joint disc and the challenges these properties pose for tissue engineering approaches to reconstruction. In the early stages of the tissue engineering program, Athanasiou's team will continue to characterize and compare tissues grown from adult animal cells.

In growing their samples, Athanasiou's team will sort out the complex regime of biomechanical cues and growth factors that are needed to coax cells into producing TMJ cartilage. They expect that a combination of mechanical stimuli and biochemical signals will be needed in order to make the tissue grow properly. Following a systematic experimental design, they will try various combinations of stimuli and growth factors to determine the best regime for growing TMJ discs that are suitable for surgical implantation.

"I have served as a scientific adviser to an advocacy group called the TMJ Association for several years, and I've gotten a glimpse of the pain and suffering that TMJ patients endure on a daily basis," Athanasiou said. "It is my fervent hope that our work can help some of these people live normal and pain-free lives."

Rice University

Related Pain Articles from Brightsurf:

Pain researchers get a common language to describe pain
Pain researchers around the world have agreed to classify pain in the mouth, jaw and face according to the same system.

It's not just a pain in the head -- facial pain can be a symptom of headaches too
A new study finds that up to 10% of people with headaches also have facial pain.

New opioid speeds up recovery without increasing pain sensitivity or risk of chronic pain
A new type of non-addictive opioid developed by researchers at Tulane University and the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System accelerates recovery time from pain compared to morphine without increasing pain sensitivity, according to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation.

The insular cortex processes pain and drives learning from pain
Neuroscientists at EPFL have discovered an area of the brain, the insular cortex, that processes painful experiences and thereby drives learning from aversive events.

Pain, pain go away: new tools improve students' experience of school-based vaccines
Researchers at the University of Toronto and The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) have teamed up with educators, public health practitioners and grade seven students in Ontario to develop and implement a new approach to delivering school-based vaccines that improves student experience.

Pain sensitization increases risk of persistent knee pain
Becoming more sensitive to pain, or pain sensitization, is an important risk factor for developing persistent knee pain in osteoarthritis (OA), according to a new study by researchers from the Université de Montréal (UdeM) School of Rehabilitation and Hôpital Maisonneuve Rosemont Research Centre (CRHMR) in collaboration with researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM).

Becoming more sensitive to pain increases the risk of knee pain not going away
A new study by researchers in Montreal and Boston looks at the role that pain plays in osteoarthritis, a disease that affects over 300 million adults worldwide.

Pain disruption therapy treats source of chronic back pain
People with treatment-resistant back pain may get significant and lasting relief with dorsal root ganglion (DRG) stimulation therapy, an innovative treatment that short-circuits pain, suggests a study presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2018 annual meeting.

Sugar pills relieve pain for chronic pain patients
Someday doctors may prescribe sugar pills for certain chronic pain patients based on their brain anatomy and psychology.

Peripheral nerve block provides some with long-lasting pain relief for severe facial pain
A new study has shown that use of peripheral nerve blocks in the treatment of Trigeminal Neuralgia (TGN) may produce long-term pain relief.

Read More: Pain News and Pain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.