Biomedical engineers at Johns Hopkins have developed a new liquid material that in early experiments in rats and humans shows promise in restoring damaged soft tissue relatively safely and durably. The material, a composite of biological and synthetic molecules, is injected under the skin, then “set” using light to form a more solid structure, like using cold to set gelatin in a mold. The researchers say the product one day could be used to reconstruct soldiers’ faces marred by blast injuries.

The researchers created their composite material from hyaluronic acid (HA), a natural component in skin of young people that confers elasticity, and polyethylene glycol (PEG), a synthetic molecule used successfully as surgical glue in operations and known not to cause severe immune reactions.

Jennifer Elisseeff, Ph.D. said the team has especially high hopes for the composite’s use in people with facial deformities, who endure social and psychological trauma. When rebuilding soft tissue, recreating natural shape often requires multiple surgeries and can result in scarring. “Many of the skin fillers available on the market consisting of HA-like materials used for face lifts are only temporarily effective, and are limited in their ability to resculpt entire areas of the face. Our hope is to develop a more effective product for people, like our war veterans, who need extensive facial reconstruction.”

More information from Johns Hopkins.