Mandible (lower jaw) fractures account for approximately 30-40% of skull trauma and are multifactorial, including congenital disorders, cancer, assault, and sporting accidents. In Australia, the major cause of mandible fractures is intrapersonal violence, also known as assault or the cowards punch. Epidemiological studies have identified the jaw angle as the most commonly fractured site in Australia and the USA with the estimated hospitalization and rehabilitation costs exceeding 5 billion USD in 2017. Current treatments that aim to restore jaw function and aesthetics are not free of morbidity and approximately 30% of mandibular fracture patients experience postoperative complications, including pain and chewing dysfunction. Previous research using finite element modelling and in vitro experiments has proposed that post-surgical complications are, in part, due to bone strain patterns in the fracture/implant zone that are not conducive to healing. However, major limitations of existing research on human (cadaveric), sheep and pig mandibles are that they a) make assumptions regarding how the jaw is loaded during chewing, and b) lack adequate in vivo validation. Our lab at Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, in collaboration with the University of Chicago, uses a novel combination of in vivo experiments and computational mechanics to determine how the fracture fixation techniques currently used by surgeons affect the biomechanical function of the jaw during chewing and to what extent this interaction compromises healing success.
Dr Olga Panagiotopoulou is the Head of the Moving Morphology & Functional Mechanics Laboratory at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute. The major research focus of the lab is the design and optimization of fixation techniques for the better and faster healing of jaw fractures. She received her BA (Hons) from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, in Greece in 2003, her MSc on Human Osteology and Palaeopathology from the University of Bradford in 2005 (funded by the Bakala Foundation) and her PhD from the University of York, UK in 2010 (funded by Marie Curie). Straight after her PhD, Dr Panagiotopoulou joined the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London as a three year Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Postdoctoral Fellow, where she worked on comparative locomotor mechanics. In the last two years of her postdoctoral appointment, she received a European Marie Curie Reintegration Fellowship, during which she expanded further her work on feeding biomechanics. In March 2013, Olga relocated to Australia to start her first academic appointment as a Lecturer in Anatomy at the School of Biomedical Sciences, The University of Queensland. In February 2018, she relocated with her lab to Monash University, where she currently holds a senior lectureship in anatomy.