Soon, gel that could change lives of babies born with cleft palates for good

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Washington, March 19 (ANI): Scientists have broken new ground in a treatment for babies born with severe cleft palates.

Clefts are quite common in newborns and in severe cases surgery is required to correct the problem. Moreover, future complications can occur as the child grows into an adult.

But now the preliminary results on a hydrogel material studied using the Science and Technology Facilities Council's ISIS neutron source show treatment for severe cleft palates could be carried out without the need for complex surgery.

Cleft palates are currently repaired by surgically repositioning the available palatal mucosa, the tissue structure at the roof of the mouth, so as to cover the gap in the palate. However, if the cleft defect is too wide there may be insufficient local tissue available to close the gap without undertaking quite radical surgery. It is these severe cases that can cause future complications for infants as they develop into adults - particularly with speech and facial growth problems.

Scientists at the University of Oxford, the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxfordshire, and the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States used ISIS to look at hydrogel on the molecular level to try and gather enough information to develop materials that could be used for a potential new treatment.

Professor David Bucknall from the Georgia Institute of Technology said: "ISIS provided us with the high level of structural detail we needed to assess the new material. It gives unique and accurate results that we can't get with any other technique."

The new potential treatment for these severe cases involves inserting a small plate made of an anisotropic hydrogel material (similar to that used in contact lenses) under the mucosa of the roof of the mouth of the patient.

The hydrogel slowly expands, as fluid is absorbed, encouraging skin growth over and around the plate - a process known as 'tissue expansion'. When sufficient skin has been generated to repair the palatal cleft, the plate is removed and the cleft is repaired by using this additional tissue.

Marc Swan, a plastic surgeon at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, and the instigator of the study, said: "Babies born with cleft palates usually have problems feeding, and may have speech difficulties in later life, as well as issues with their hearing, dentition and facial growth.

"The severest cases often have the least favourable outcomes and unfortunately these are the most challenging children to treat surgically."

Andrew Taylor, ISIS Director said: "This study shows how fundamental knowledge about the structure of materials can be used to develop new technology. The instruments at the new ISIS second target station build on 25 years of expertise developed in the UK. They are designed to allow new areas of research to flourish - particularly in soft matter and bioscience - and make it easy for research teams to get the important results that they need. We're pleased that at ISIS we can continue to contribute to research affecting everyday lives."

The clinical trials in this area are expected to take place early next year. (ANI)

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