Improving tissue expansion protocols through computational modeling

Lee, T.; Vaca, E. E.; Ledwon, J. K.; Bae, H.; Topczewska, J. M.; Turin, S. Y.; Kuhl, E.; Gosain, A. K.; Tepole, A. B.

J Mech Behav Biomed Mater. 2018 Apr 9; 82:224-234


Tissue expansion is a common technique in reconstructive surgery used to grow skin in vivo for correction of large defects. Despite its popularity, there is a lack of quantitative understanding of how stretch leads to growth of new skin. This has resulted in several arbitrary expansion protocols that rely on the surgeon's personal training and experience rather than on accurate predictive models. For example, choosing between slow or rapid expansion, or small or large inflation volumes remains controversial. Here we explore four tissue expansion protocols by systematically varying the inflation volume and the protocol duration in a porcine model. The quantitative analysis combines three-dimensional photography, isogeometric kinematics, and finite growth theory. Strikingly, all four protocols generate similar peak stretches, but different growth patterns: Smaller filling volumes of 30ml per inflation did not result in notable expander-induced growth neither for the short nor for the long protocol; larger filling volumes of 60ml per inflation trigger skin adaptation, with larger expander-induced growth in regions of larger stretch, and more expander-induced growth for the 14-day compared to the 10-day expansion protocol. Our results suggest that expander-induced growth is not triggered by the local stretch alone. While stretch is clearly a driver for growth, the local stretch at a given point is not enough to predict the expander-induced growth at that location. From a clinical perspective, our study suggests that longer expansion protocols are needed to ensure sufficient growth of sizable skin patches.

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