Injected Goop Could Mend Soldiers' Faces
A synthetic-organic material is injected just under the skin and will then solidify when exposed to a special LED light. Such implants may help repair the damaged faces of soldiers without major surgery.
A new implant that began as a cutting-edge wrinkle therapy for the cosmetic startup Kythera in California could help soldiers who return from the battlefield with terrible facial wounds. All it might take to begin repairing the damage is a simple injection and brief light exposure.
Unlike current methods of tissue replacement that require insertions or adjustments during many surgical operations, the injected material could help restore missing and damaged portions of the face without requiring patients to go under the knife. That could prove a relief for the many walking wounded a recent Department of Defense study found that 9 percent of U.S. service members suffered serious facial injuries in battle over a 6-year period in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We were trying to design a technology that could be easily implanted, allowing position control over the implantation process," said Dr. Jennifer Elisseeff of The John Hopkins University School of Medicine. "And then, being able to create a solid cross-linked material without a surgical procedure ."
When injected under the skin, a small amount of squishy substance made from synthetic and organic compounds changed from liquid to solid after just two minutes of exposure to a green LED light . That allows knowledgeable physicians to exercise maximum control over the implant's shape depending on its injection location and goopiness, Elisseeff said.
The new material combines hyaluronic acid found in younger skin and many tissue fillers with polyethylene glycol that helps the material "set" in solid form. Such a synthetic-organic blend balances the body's tendency to reject artificial materials with its tendency to break down biological materials.
"There's been stuff that has been purely biological, but that's temporary (people have to go back to renew their wrinkle treatment) or purely synthetic (prosthetics)," said Vanessa McMains, spokeswoman for The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "This research shows promise for permanent soft tissue replacement within the body."
Implants retained their shape and volume three months after injection in a recent study by Elisseeff's group. They tested the new material on the back muscle of rats and the bellies of three human volunteers undergoing "tummy tucks." The only negative side effects came from mild to moderate swelling in nearby body tissue, as well as sensations of heat or pain during the setting process.
Next up, a new grant will allow the next-generation version of the material to tackle more trauma-related conditions, and test its ability to help tissue regenerate .