, Volume 11, Issue 6, pp 855-867
Date: 04 Nov 2011

Growing skin: tissue expansion in pediatric forehead reconstruction

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Abstract

Tissue expansion is a common surgical procedure to grow extra skin through controlled mechanical over-stretch. It creates skin that matches the color, texture, and thickness of the surrounding tissue, while minimizing scars and risk of rejection. Despite intense research in tissue expansion and skin growth, there is a clear knowledge gap between heuristic observation and mechanistic understanding of the key phenomena that drive the growth process. Here, we show that a continuum mechanics approach, embedded in a custom-designed finite element model, informed by medical imaging, provides valuable insight into the biomechanics of skin growth. In particular, we model skin growth using the concept of an incompatible growth configuration. We characterize its evolution in time using a second-order growth tensor parameterized in terms of a scalar-valued internal variable, the in-plane area growth. When stretched beyond the physiological level, new skin is created, and the in-plane area growth increases. For the first time, we simulate tissue expansion on a patient-specific geometric model, and predict stress, strain, and area gain at three expanded locations in a pediatric skull: in the scalp, in the forehead, and in the cheek. Our results may help the surgeon to prevent tissue over-stretch and make informed decisions about expander geometry, size, placement, and inflation. We anticipate our study to open new avenues in reconstructive surgery and enhance treatment for patients with birth defects, burn injuries, or breast tumor removal.