- The new molecular surgery can reshape living tissue using electric current.
- The procedure causes no scarring and no pain.
- In the future, it can be used as an alternative to laser eye surgery.
Conventional surgeries to reshape an ear or nose involve cutting and stitching tissues, followed by long recovery times. Sometimes, it leaves a scar. Patients may also experience skin problems or breakdown of skin tissue associated with the use of grafting materials.
Now, a team of scientists has come up with a ‘molecular surgery’ process that reshapes living tissue without any incisions or scars. This low-cost process uses 3D-printed molds, tiny needles, and electricity to quickly reshape the tissue. The entire procedure would take only 5 minutes.
Such noninvasive methods of reshaping cartilage could be used in common surgery producers, for instance, making an ear sharp or giving a nose more attractive look. The technique can also help fix certain issues, including deviated septum and joint contractures caused by cerebral palsy or stroke.
Cartilage is a strong and flexible fibrous tissue that serves multiple purposes throughout the body. It is not as rigid and hard as bone, but much stiffer and less flexible than muscle. It’s a structural component of the nose, ear, intervertebral discs, bronchial tubes, and several other body parts.
The matrix of cartilage is made up of proteoglycans (proteins) and tiny collagen fibers loosely woven together by biopolymers. It also consists of positively charged sodium ions and negatively charged proteins. Compared to other connective tissues, cartilages have a slow turnover of their extracellular matrix and doesn’t repair.
The conventional surgical procedures include heating cartilage (with an infrared laser) to make it flexible enough to reshape. However, this technique always involves a risk of killing the tissue and the procedure is also quite expensive.
The New Approach
To discover a more feasible technique, the research team tried to pass an electric current through the cartilage to heat it up to the mark where they can easily change the shape of the tissue. Fortunately, they were able to do that without damaging the tissue cells.
Researchers found that flowing electricity through cartilage electrolyzes water in the tissue, transforming water into protons (hydrogen ions) and oxygen. Each proton carries a positive charge which cancels out the negative charge on proteins. This decreases the overall charge density and makes the cartilage more moldable.
They have already tested this molecular surgery technique on a rabbit’s ears. They were able to bend ears to give a desired new shape without damaging the tissue. The procedure causes no scarring and no pain.
The new technique changes the curvature of the cornea to correct vision | Courtesy of researchers
The team is currently exploring other kinds of collagen tissue like corneas and tendons. The shape of the cornea affects vision: too much curvature, for instance, causes myopia (nearsightedness).
In this study, researchers 3D printed a contact lens, etched electrodes on it, and put the lens on the eye. They then applied electricity to temporarily soften the cornea and alter its curvature.
Although experiments on animals have had promising outcomes, there are still numerous obstacles to overcome before this technique could be used on human eyes.