Exciting news for parents of babies with cleft palates was announced recently in Plastic Surgery Practice, an online journal for those involved in the industry. The article’s title says it all: Cleft Palate Breakthrough May Remove Need for Surgery.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC 1), a cleft palate occurs when the roof of a baby’s mouth doesn’t close properly in early pregnancy, creating a rift (CDC 1). Babies with a cleft palate may also have a cleft lip, but the two oral-facial clefts don’t necessarily occur together (March of Dimes 1).
The CDC says that in the United States, approximately 2651 babies are born annually with a cleft palate. Another 4437 are born with a cleft lip, and many of those have a cleft palate as well. The factors behind the development of cleft palates are not completely understood at this point, though it’s thought that a combination of genetic and environmental factors contribute.
Now, an organization based in the United Kingdom called the Science and Technology Facilities Council is studying a hydrogel material which may aid in repairing some of the most challenging cleft palates . As the name suggests, the substance is a gelatinous material containing water. A common use for hydrogel is in the manufacture of soft contact lenses (Ask.com 1).
As the Plastic Surgery Practice article explains, cleft palate repair is commonly performed by stretching the available tissue at the top of the mouth to cover the rift in the palate. But in some cases, the gap is too wide and complex surgery is employed to close the rift (PSP 1).
In the experimental treatment, plastic surgeons position a small piece of hydrogel material under the surface tissues of the roof of the baby’s mouth. The material slowly expands and prompts tissue to grow to cover it. When enough surface tissue has grown, the small plate of hydrogel is removed and surgeons use the new tissue to correct the cleft palate (PSP 1).
Because the initial results of the experiments with hydrogel have been successful, researchers expect clinical trials to be conducted soon.