New hope for disfiguring injuries: Foam can repair skulls, jaws, faces

a round piece of sponge-like foam

Image: Look College of Engineering

A newly developed material that molds itself to fill gaps in bone while promoting bone growth could more effectively treat defects in the facial region, says a Texas A&M University researcher who is creating the shape-shifting material.

The research by Melissa Grunlan, associate professor in the university’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, is detailed in the scientific journal “Acta Biomaterialia.” Working with colleagues at Texas A&M and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Grunlan has created a polymer foam that is malleable after treating with warm saline, allowing it to precisely fill a bone defect before hardening into a porous, sponge-like scaffold that promotes new bone formation.

The team envisions the material as a treatment for cranio-maxillofacial bone defects – gaps in bone occurring in the head, face or jaw areas. These defects, which can dramatically alter a person’s appearance, can be caused by injuries, birth defects such as cleft palates or surgical procedures such as the removal of tumors, Grunlan says.

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