A collaborative group from the Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Oxford and ISIS are the first to study with the instrument (a spin-echo reflectometer), investigating the properties of hydro-gel polymers with a view to the materials begin used in infant cleft palate repair.
Dr Marc Swan, a leading plastic surgeon at John Radcliffe hospital (Oxford), instigated the study and is currently working in Uganda with children suffering from the congenital problem. The investigation is being performed at ISIS by Professor David Bucknall (GIT), Dr Rob Dalgleish (ISIS) and Dr Jinhyun Hannah Lee and Dr Zamri Radzi (Oxford University). The team have been working together for the last 5 years.
The hydro-gels are similar to those used to make soft semi-permeable contact lenses – which absorb a small volume of water to keep the surface of the eye hydrated. The polymers being investigated enable a larger volume of water to be absorbed and retained, promoting an expansion of the gel to up to ten times its original size whilst still remaining structurally sound.
It is hoped that a small plate of the hydro-gel polymer will be inserted into the roof of the mouth of the sufferer, supported by the skin on either side. Here they will gradually expand as water is absorbed, encouraging skin growth around the edges of the plate. When enough skin has been generated to cover the hole, the plate will be removed and the skin stitched together.
This method for oral skin generation has been successful in studies on pigs. However the team predict it may be 3 to 4 years before hospitals begin to carry out this procedure due to the tough control boards involved in the medical profession.
The team, and ISIS, were excited to start experimenting with Offspec in the Second Target Station. The instrument holds great promise for future study of new surface structures including patterned data storage media, mesoporous films and biological membranes.
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