Medicine is a field in which STFC is helping to make a very human impact.
When researchers wanted to develop a new material to improve the treatment of cleft palates, they turned to the team at the ISIS laser facility for help. The success of that research has created a new way to speed up healing times and reduce operating costs.
One in every 700 babies in Britain are born with cleft lip or palate issues – that’s around a 1000 every year, making it the most common craniofacial birth defect. Babies 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.
In severe cases radical surgery is required, often taking up to ten expensive operations to correct the problem. Cleft palates are currently repaired by surgically repositioning the tissue on the roof of the mouth to cover the gap in the palate. However, if the cleft is too wide there may be insufficient local tissue available to close the gap without undertaking radical surgery.
A team of researchers at the University of Oxford, the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxfordshire, and the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States began investigating novel hydrogel tissue expanders to improve the treatment of many disorders including craniofacial conditions; limb deformities, scar reconstruction and in restorative dentistry.
The researchers used STFC’s ISIS facility at RAL to characterise the hydrogel at the molecular level. This fundamental breakthrough meant the technology could then be commercially exploited by OXTEX, who were formed in 2011 as an Oxford University spin-out.
The new product reduces the risk of soft tissue damage, making them ideal for use in delicate anatomical locations, and particularly in the treatment of children. Clinicians should be able to treat more cases, at a lower cost, and with better results.