Wood is one of 15 nationwide to use dissolving plates and screws

Delicate facial, brain or skull surgery is enhanced when medical plates and screws are used that dissolve within months of implantation, according to Emory craniofacial surgeon Robert J. Wood, one of 15 surgeons in the nation and the only surgeon in Georgia granted permission to use the new devices.

The permanent titanium plates and screws now used may be especially troublesome in young patients, since they may sometimes be felt as the child grows and they tend to migrate internally as the skull grows, said Wood, who is assistant professor of surgery (plastic and reconstructive) in the School of Medicine.

A major advantage of the new plastic devices is apparent at the time of surgery, too; once heated, the plates become pliable, allowing the surgeon to mold them into place. Such customization is impossible with conventional metal plates.

Developed by Biomet Corporation, the new devices are made of a copolymer that combines polyglycolic and polylactic acid. The devices have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in reconstructive and trauma head and neck surgery. This includes orthognathic surgery of the jaw (to repair severe underbite or overbite, for instance), surgery to repair the face and orbits around the eye damaged by trauma or the result of congenital deformity, correction of a misshapen skull characteristic of craniosynostosis, or cosmetic nose repair, among other applications. The devices are inappropriate for orthopaedic surgery on load-bearing bones.

Thus far, Wood has used the dissolving plates and screws in two pediatric patients and plans to use them in adult surgery within a month.

"We believe resorbable plates are one of the biggest advancements in our field in years," Wood said. "Our experience so far has been very positive."

-- Lorri Preston

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