Within five years, soldiers who suffer facial burns could have their faces regrown by wearing intelligent biomechanical masks, according to research out of the University of Texas at Arlington.
Eileen Moss of the university's Automation & Robotics Research Institute is collaborating with the U.S. Army and Northwestern University to build a prototype Biomask equipped with tiny sensors and actuators.
Under conventional treatment, damaged tissue is removed and replaced with grafts. The procedure, however, can sometimes produce speech problems, deformities, and scarring; it can require multiple operations.
The Biomask consists of a rigid, face-shaped shell and covering flexible polymer layers that contain arrays of electrical and mechanical components.
The outer shell holds the inner mechanism in place. The actuators keep the polymer layers pushed up against the wounded flesh for a period of months while the patient wears the mask.
Within the layers, a web of of microvalves and microfluidic channels creates sub-atmospheric pressure on the burned face. The formation of a vacuum promotes healing, while the face is pumped with growth factor or stem cells to promote tissue regeneration.
Sensors, meanwhile, provide physicians with feedback about specific wound areas.
If the research works out, the mask could return soldiers to duty faster and reduce the number of operations they have to undergo.
"We think the Biomask will become the ultimate tool for treating burns," Moss was quoted as saying in a release. "It's a thinking device. As the wounds heal, the Biomask will be able to adjust treatment to provide faster and better results."