UCI Engineers Initiate the Tissue-Engineering Approach for TMJ Disorders

25% of people are affected by the defects of temporomandibular i.e the jaw joint. Despite it being very common, treatments for it are still lacking.

“The TMJ is central to chewing, talking and so many other daily activities, so when this crucial joint is impaired, there are significant negative effects on quality of life,” said a biomedical engineering professor, Kyriacos A. Athanasiou. “The problem may start with slight pain and clicking and get progressively worse to the point where it’s not just impacting the jaw but the entire body.”

Temporomandibular disorders could be caused as a result of a sudden injury, or simply due to wear and tear as time passes. Its general treatments comprise of splints, physical therapy, adjustments, pain medications, and corticosteroid injections.

“It has to do with the proximity of the TMJ to the brain,” explained Athanasiou. “Back in the 1980s, many patients – primarily women – came forward with issues they had with the TMJ. The solution at the time was to insert a spacer between the two bones articulated in the jaw.”

“It turns out that Teflon was an absolute catastrophe for all of those women,” said Athanasiou. “Because of the large mechanical forces generated in the jaw, the Teflon broke up into pieces, and because of the proximity of the TMJ to the brain, those pieces somehow found their way into the brain.”

“The end product that we aspire to use for treating afflictions of TMJ discs is a tissue-engineered product that’s fully alive, biological and mechanically comparable to the real thing,” said Donahue. “So even if it breaks down, it will be like any other biological component, without having pieces of foreign material entering the brain.”

“In eight weeks, we saw complete functionality of the TMJ disc, whereas the ones we left untreated deteriorated completely, developing full osteoarthritis in the joint,” said Hu. “So we were able to show that by using our tissue-engineering approach in a large-animal model, we could achieve exceptional healing.”

“The FDA has asked if we could help them figure out how to go about developing processes for bringing TMJ products to the market,” he added. “We would be delighted to help create that pathway.”