November 26, 2008 - Students, faculty and staff from Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine (LMU-DCOM) attended the annual American Osteopathic Association (AOA) convention in Las Vegas at the end of October.

While at the convention, second-year osteopathic medical student Anne Kroman of Knoxville, Tenn., gave a poster presentation on the research that she and Dr. Greg Thompson, assistant professor and chair of osteopathic principles and practice, have conducted on cranial sutures. The project, titled “Correlation Between Cranial Suture Fusion and Somatic Dysfunction,” blends two academic fields, osteopathic medicine and anthropology. Kroman holds a Ph.D. in forensic anthropology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and studied with legendary forensic anthropologist Dr. William Bass. Thompson was a member of the Anne Wales Study Group in cranial osteopathy for six years and assisted in teaching cranial osteopathy at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNECOM) for 13 years before joining the faculty of LMU-DCOM in 2006.

“I believe our relative expertise in two fields allows us a unique perspective,” said Thompson. “To some the finds will be interesting; to others they will be ground-breaking and a bit earth-shaking. For the first time, we have evidence to support some very important theories that have eluded anatomists, anthropologists, physiologists and physicians for a long time.”

Kroman and Thompson’s research revolves around cranial sutures, or the points in the skull where the skull plates meet, and examines a theory first proposed by osteopathic physician William Garner Sutherland almost 100 years ago. Sutherland believed in a concept of motion within the bones of the skull, and spent most of his life pursuing the clinical evidence to support the anatomic evidence that persistence of sutures within the skull indicated a small amount of motion persisted between the plates within the skull. Sutherland believed the sutures represented a type of joint, or at least an area of flexibility within the cranium.

For the study Kroman and Thompson looked at a large sample of skeletons from the Bass Donated Collection housed at the University of Tennessee Department of Anthropology to look at the degree of fusion of the cranial sutures as well as the overall health of the individual. Through their research, Kroman and Thompson have found a strong statistical correlation indicating that fused joints within the body create or are created by an environment which is associated with sutural fusion in the head. If no joints within the skeleton are fused, it is far less likely for the sutures in the cranium to fuse.

“If there is motion in the head,” said Thompson, “and the sutures are part of what allows that system to operate, then restricting the motion of the body causes a restriction in the head, which allows the sutures to fuse. If there is no motion in the head, and the sutures are just there because they are there, inhibiting the biomechanics of what they are attached to wouldn’t matter.”

Kroman and Thompson have not yet determined if sutural fusion causes the joints to fuse within the body, or if the fused joints in the body cause the sutures of the head to fuse.

“Either way,” said Thompson,” the research offers the foundation to pursue not only the verification of Sutherland’s work, and the obvious clinical improvements experienced by patients who are treated for dysfunction of the cranium. It also offers greater insight into the complexity and as yet undefined functions of the human body.”

The research also has important implications for the field of forensic anthropology. Since the 1920s, the fusion rates of cranial sutures have been used as a tool by forensic anthropologists to help estimate how old an individual was from the skeleton. “When we find skeletal remains of an unknown individual, the goal of the forensic anthropologist is to try to aid in the identification process by constructing a ‘biological profile’ which includes an estimation of an age range, the sex and the race,” said Kroman. “However, there have been numerous studies and clinical evidence that shows that using cranial suture fusion as a method for determining how old someone was just doesn’t work that well, and up until now no one has been able to figure out exactly why. What we are trying to do is bring together two very different fields, blend the knowledge and attempt to solve a greater problem. And it has big ramifications for both medicine and forensic anthropology.”

“We at LMU-DCOM are very proud of this research,” said Dr. Ray E. Stowers, vice president and dean. “The study is gaining nationwide accolades, and I think it will prove to be the source of further research and discussion for years to come.”

Kroman and Thompson’s work has been selected to be presented as a podium lecture at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Colorado in February 2009.

Approximately 40 DCOM students in all, accompanied by DCOM faculty and staff, attended the meeting. While at the conference, the students attended conference sessions and staffed the DCOM exhibit booth.

Five second-year osteopathic medical students, including Jordan Bohinc, Megan Elstro, David Heath, Deanne Grayson and Myles Jen Kin, received awards at the American Osteopathic Foundation banquet on Sunday night. Bohinc received the 2008 Welch Scholars Award, Elstro received the 2008 Russell C. McCaughan Scholarship, and Heath, Grayson and Jen Kin all received 2008 Savvy Student Traveler Awards.

Five members of the Student Advocate Association (SAA) at LMU-DCOM were also in attendance, the largest number of members in attendance from any SAA organization in the country. The SAA is an affiliate of the Advocates for the American Osteopathic Association (AAOA), which is an affiliate to the American Osteopathic Association. The SAA and the Advocates have the primary mission of promoting and supporting osteopathic medicine, and helping support the endeavors of osteopathic medical students is a part of that mission. Most SAA members are spouses or significant others of osteopathic medical students.

The DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine is located on the campus of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. LMU-DCOM is an integral part of LMU’s values-based learning community, and is dedicated to preparing the next generation of osteopathic physicians to provide healthcare in the often underserved region of Appalachia and beyond. For more information about LMU-DCOM, call 1-800-325-0900, ext. 7082, e-mail, or visit us online at

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