This week, a team of scientists, led by Michael Hill, have presented a new type of medical procedure that could help replacing some types of painful and invasive surgeries.
The research, published by the American Chemical Society (ACS), describes how cartilage, for example, that shapes our nose, can become more malleable after being subjected to an electric current.
Using electric current and 3D-printed molds, Hill's team discovered how to soften and shape the cartilage without making a single incision; a development that could significantly shorten the recovery time of medical procedures and make everything the process is less painful.
"We invented this new technique as an outpatient, low-cost procedure performed under local anesthesia," Hill said in a statement.
Hill's group discovered that the current which passes through the cartilage, electrolytes the water inside it, converting water into oxygen and hydrogen ions, or protons. The positive charge of the protons cancels the negative charge of the proteins, which makes the cartilage more malleable. "Once the fabric is flexible - adds Hill - you can mold it in any way you want."
According to the press release, the scientists arrived at the new surgical procedure almost by accident. One member of the team used infrared lasers to heat the cartilage, but it was too expensive and often ended with tissue death. To avoid this, they tried electricity. The electric charge worked, but not heating the cartilage. What he did was to unbalance the electrically charged ions that harden the cartilage, loosening it and then allowing it to re-form.
Apart from aesthetic surgeries, scientists expect their new technique to be used to restore the function of rigid joints or to repair partitions diverted by traumatic injuries. In the future, the technique can be used not only in cartilage, perhaps even to repair corneas and correct eyesight.