Currently, in order to reshape cartilage such as that within the nose, incisions and subsequent sutures are typically required. Not only is the procedure invasive, but it can also result in scarring. Now, however, scientists have demonstrated a new method of cartilage-reshaping that requires no cutting.

First of all, there already is a procedure in which an infrared laser is used to heat up cartilage, making it malleable enough to be molded into the desired shape. According to the University of California-Irvine’s Dr. Brian Wong, however, the process is expensive, plus it’s difficult the heat the cartilage sufficiently without killing it.

Seeking a better alternative, his team joined forces with Dr. Michael Hill from Los Angeles-based Occidental College.

The researchers ultimately developed a technique that they call “molecular surgery,” which begins with tiny needles being inserted into the cartilage. These are used to pass an electrical current through the tissue. This electrolyzes water present in the cartilage, converting it into oxygen and hydrogen ions – the latter are also known as protons.

The positive electrical charge of the protons proceeds to cancel the negative charge of proteins contained within the cartilage’s rigid collagen fibers. This reduces those fibers’ charge density, temporarily causing them to become soft and malleable – they’re still linked to one another, however, by biopolymers.

At this point, a 3D-printed mold is externally applied to the nose or other appendage. The softened cartilage conforms to the shape of the mold, proceeding to harden into that shape as the electrolyzing effect wears off. In a lab test, the technique has already been used to reshape the cartilage in a rabbit’s ear.

“We envision this new technique as a low-cost office procedure done under local anesthesia,” says Hill. “The whole process would take about five minutes.”

Down the road, it is hoped that the technology could be utilized not only for cosmetic procedures, but also as an alternative to surgery for deviated septums, and for addressing problems in other collagen-based tissues such as tendons and corneas. In fact, the scientists have successfully altered the curve of a cornea, using an electrode-equipped 3D-printed contact lens to pass current through it.

The research was presented at the American Chemical Society Spring 2019 National Meeting and Exposition.

Source: American Chemical Society

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