Inventors Take Pride
If you are among those whose battered joints were replaced by this bioengineered marvel, you might want to thank orthopedic surgeon Frederick Buechel and engineer Michael Pappas. Buechel, a clinical associate professor of surgery at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School and a 1971 graduate of the school, and Pappas, a recently retired NJIT professor of structural engineering, earned two of the state's top honors for their prosthetic joint, the first and only knee on the market with full FDA approval. The partners were named "Inventors of the Year" by the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame in February and were awarded a New Jersey Pride Award by New Jersey Monthly magazine at a banquet in March. (You can read about them in the magazine's May issue.)
The dynamic duo has been working together for 25 years - ever since Pappas began teaching medical students and residents about biomechanics, the study of forces and motions that affect the skeletal structure. Buechel - a surgical resident at the time and a student in Pappas's class - asked the engineer for help in constructing a prosthetic ankle. The two have since garnered 30 patents for replacement ankles, hips, shoulders, knee and finger joints, and are co-owners of Endotec Inc., a prosthesis manufacturing company.
The New Jersey Knee virtually solves the problem of wear and tear to the joint created by repetitive motion, while supporting full body weight. It has a movable bearing - composed of an exceptionally hard plastic - that slides back and forth in response to changing points of pressure created by knee flexion and rotational movements. The replacement joint lasts 15 to 20 years, but the inventors are funding research at NJIT aimed to extend its life span.
The partners also hold a patent for applying a textured, microporous surface to the part of the prosthesis that is implanted in the bone, allowing the bone to grow into it. This creates a natural fixative more stable and permanent than cement.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of their invention, Buechel and Pappas donated a permanent exhibit of the implant to the UMDNJ libraries in March 1997. A new generation of physicians may find inspiration in the inventors' giant steps in the still-young field that marries medicine and engineering.
Spring - Summer 1998 Table of Contents