Scientists Reshaped Living Tissue Through “Molecular Surgery” Without Incisions
Surgical procedures are usually invasive and painful and it could take a long time to fully recover from the incisions surgeons make while performing them. Researchers have created a new technique that can be used to reshape living tissue without making any incisions.
The new “molecular surgery,” which has potentially wide applications, involves the use of only tiny needles, 3D-printed molds, and electric current to reshape living tissue. Without any need for incisions, it does not come with a risk of scarring or lengthy recovery times.
“We envision this new technique as a low-cost office procedure done under local anesthesia,” said co-lead investigator Michael Hill, Ph.D. “The whole process would take about five minutes.”
This new technique looks to offer a more appealing approach for carrying out a number of cosmetic procedures, including nose jobs. It shows the potential of providing a non-invasive substitute for laser eye surgery.
The method could also prove helpful for treating certain medical conditions, including those currently with effective treatments. It may prove of use for correcting deviated septums and joint contractures resulting from stroke or cerebral palsy.
The researchers presented their results at the Spring 2019 National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.
Hill joined other researchers in developing this new technique after being approached for help by Brian Wong, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California. Wong, already skilled in reshaping cartilage, wanted assistance in achieving this goal in a less-invasive, less-expensive manner.
Cartilage comprises miniature, stiff collagen fibers that are loosely connected by polymers. It features positively charged sodium ions and negatively charged proteins. A higher density of the charged components makes the cartilage stiffer.
Wong used a technique that involves heating cartilage with an infrared laser to enable reshaping. But Hill and his team found out that passing an electric current through cartilage splits the water molecules in it into oxygen and hydrogen ions, or protons.
The current makes it possible for positive charges on the protons to nullify the negative charges of the proteins. This action reduces charge density, making the tissue less stiff and more malleable for reshaping.
Surgery without incisions
The scientists tested their developed technique using a rabbit’s ears, which are typically in an upright position. They fixed in place a mold to bend over an ear to have a preferred shape.
Microneedle electrodes were then inserted into the ear, with the mold still in place, and the pulsing current was passed through them. As a result, cartilage softened at the point of bending for a short time and there was no damage.
The researchers left the mold in place after the current was turned off. They removed it after the tissue had become hard in the new, desired shape.
Surgeons would normally need to cut through the skin and tissue to achieve similar effects using conventional surgical methods. Cutting can result in the formation of scar tissue, which may require further operations to remove.
According to Hill, their molecular surgical approach comes with no scarring or pain.
The scientists are looking into the possible use of the method in a variety of collagen tissue, including corneas and tendons. They have shown that it works in the cornea, the eyes’ transparent outer covering.
Using a 3D-printed contact lens painted with electrodes, they were able to soften the cornea briefly by applying current, making it possible to alter its curvature. But it is not likely this technique will be available in doctors’ offices any time soon.
The researchers are considering licensing options with medical device companies for the technique.