PhD Student Takes Facial Reconstruction in a New Direction
PhD student Asmaa Maloul works closely with doctors and surgeons at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre examining facial reconstruction surgeries for patients who suffer facial fractures. Her project: develop a 3D finite element model that will enable surgeons to understand the behaviour of bone structure and perform better facial surgery for those patients who have suffered fractures.
The challenge, Maloul explained, is some that facial reconstruction surgeries involve the use of screws and plates that often lead to complications due to the incomplete understanding of the biomechanical environment in the face.
"We need to understand the direction of forces produced by our facial muscles, to be able to place facial hardware in an optimized way during surgery," she said. Working on cadavers, Maloul mimics the muscle forces applied to the face using a mechanical testing system, collects information and inputs data into computer software. From there, she is able to create a computer model of the face and determine exact composites and direction of muscle tissue.
"We need to keep in mind other factors that influence facial reconstruction, like how our facial features change as we age or how every face is unique where standard sized implants will not do," she noted. Collaborative work at Sunnybrook allows Maloul to answer important clinical application questions such as how will this design help patients? Using this new research, surgeons can pinpoint exact areas where facial implants are necessary and sustainable.
According to Maloul, her education at U of T Engineering gave her flexibility in course selections and access to external resources, so that she could learn in real-world settings. Maloul is working under the supervision of Associate Professor Cari Whyne at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomechanical Engineering (IBBME).
"I was able to take courses in dentistry, business and mechanical engineering and do a four month internship at a medical company while doing my PhD," said Maloul. Her goal is to gain more industry experience in order to market her ideas. As an international student, Maloul was fortunate to receive funding from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to attend commercialization training where she will learn how to close the gap between research and market needs.
Born in Palestine, Maloul studied in the U.S. before she came to learn orthopedic biomechanics at U of T Engineering. Maloul's 17-year old brother participated one summer at U of T's Da Vinci Engineering Enrichment Program (DEEP) Summer Academy.
"I hope one day he can join me here. I'm trying to sway him to apply to the mechanical engineering program," she said, "but he likes the environmental engineering stream."