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Innovation competition winners make dental implant breakthrough

Published August 02, 2013

Innovation is often born from passion. It’s ignited by a passion to learn, grow and find answers to complicated questions.

That’s the common thread between NDSU students Emily Steil, Shelby Schields, Sarah Lindblom and Hannah Green. They’ve all got a passion for research.

You can hear it in every word they speak. And you can see it in the results.   

Steil, Schields, Lindblom and Green recently determined the ideal pore size for growing cells that will allow a new dental implant to integrate into a patient’s jawbone. The research could eventually revolutionize dental implants by providing a ceramic alternative to standard titanium.

“We all have the same goal,” said Steil, who earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology last spring and is entering her first year at the College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics at the University of Iowa. “We want to get this thing figured out. It’s a long process, but we are working on it. The most exciting thing is that we were all undergrads. This is really advanced for us and we are pushing our limits.”

NDSU students are developing the implant under the guidance of David Wells, professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering.

A subgroup of NDSU’s Bison Microventure student research team, the four students focused on developing a method for correlating the cell size and channel dimension of the new implants to improve its long-term success. The process involved placing the same amount of cells on several plastic sample implants with different pore sizes. The samples were monitored for cell growth and integration.

The breakthrough research earned Steil, Schields, Lindblom and Green the intangible innovations award  – and $5,000 – in Innovation Challenge ’13. The annual innovation competition highlights inventive work being done by NDSU students.

Why the need for a new dental implant?

Screw-shaped titanium dental implants are less aesthetically appealing than ceramic and are sometimes rejected by the body as a foreign substance.

Ceramic, which has elements similar to bone, could allow cells to grow and adhere to it more naturally while providing a more visually appealing product.

The innovation group has come up with a pore size it believes is optimal for cell growth on a ceramic implant. Their research method will be used to help simplify other elements of the dental implant research.

“Their research this past year is very, very exciting,” Wells said of the Innovation Challenge winners. “We have a much, much, much better understanding now because of what these kids did. We know what size of pores to worry about. We know what sizes seem to be larger than optimum and we know what is too small.”

Bison Microventure, consistently comprised of about 20 members, is slowly moving closer to making the ceramic implant a reality.

The group’s students, with varying majors from music to zoology to engineering, are also studying ceramic’s anti-microbial properties and the possibility of deviating from a screw-shaped implant that is widely used.

Progress is entirely up to the students. So is the next step in working toward a finished product. Wells, who funds the project mostly with his own money, said he frames the question, then simply asks students what they would like to accomplish and how they wish to achieve their goals.

Then he stays out of the way and watches the students dig in.

Bison Microventure is a one-credit undergraduate course that requires participants to meet two hours a week. But the project isn’t confined to a classroom or lab.

Many students spend hours together off campus discussing the project. And the group is in the beginning stages of exploring a crowdsourced funding platform to help the project move forward more rapidly.  

This isn’t about course credit. It’s about passion. It’s about innovation.   

“The more I spend time with the project the more I fall in love with it,” Schields said. “It’s so unique. No one gets to do hands-on dental research. And this could make a huge impact on dental implants in the real world. That is amazing.”


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Last Updated: Thursday, May 15, 2014 1:26:11 PM
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