Out with the surgeon, in with the mask
The mask is made up of two layers, a hard outer shell where the electrical components will be stored – the shell’s robustness will also protect the face. Then there will be a softer, inside layer made from polymer that will fit over the contours of the face. Inside this layer will be three further layers where sensors are located as well as a network of valves and tubing to pump the medicine to the required locations.
This is the result of a collaboration between UT Arlington Automation & Robotics Research Institute in Fort Worth, the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research at the Brooke Army Medical Center and Northwestern University. It is a bold project that could potentially restore a face disfigured by burns to what it was before.
The project’s leader Eileen Moss says: “We think the Biomask will become the ultimate tool for treating burns. It’s a thinking device. As the wounds heal, the Biomask will be able to adjust treatment to provide faster and better results.”
Cutting-edge sensors that help healing
A series of sensors, will react according to how the face is healing. If there is an infection for example, it will release medicine to the affected area as well as stem cells to areas that need skin re-growth.
Even more remarkably, sensors will also be able to inform doctors how well the patient’s face is healing so they can direct the appropriate therapy to different tissues.
Current methods for treatment have varied results. At the moment, to treat a severe burn, it is necessary to remove affected areas and apply skin grafts. If they can’t take skin from the patient’s own body they have to use donor skin which the immune system often rejects. If the graft does take it often results in deformities and scars as well as speech problems.
Giving burn victims hope
With the biomask working in a totally different way scientists are optimistic it will radically change the lives of those suffering from serious burns.
“This gives our wounded warriors hope,” said Col. Robert G. Hale, commander of the U.S. Army Dental and Trauma Research Detachment in San Antonio. “That’s what it’s all about. We’re improving their quality of life.”