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These Researchers Have Skin in the Game

They've invented a polymer that could erase eye bags, improve skin moisture, and help patients with dermatitis.

Nancy Crotti

MIT polymer skin
Says MIT professor Daniel Anderson: "It's an invisible layer that can provide a barrier, provide cosmetic improvement, and potentially deliver a drug locally to the area that's being treated." (Image courtesy of Melanie Gonick/MIT)

Researchers at MIT and elsewhere have invented an elastic, wearable polymer that can reduce eye bags and may someday deliver medication to help wounds heal, and to treat eczema and other skin conditions.

The crosslinked polymer layer (XPL) is silicone-based, stretchier than skin, and invisible once applied, according to a statement from MIT. Research subjects reported no irritation from wearing it.

The team from MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, and private companies Living Proof and Olivo Labs reported their findings in the journal Nature. The material can be engineered with specific elasticity, shrinkability, adhesion, and air- and water-tightness, according to the Nature article. It can be topically applied, and dries quickly, without extra heat or light.

"It's an invisible layer that can provide a barrier, provide cosmetic improvement, and potentially deliver a drug locally to the area that's being treated," said Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering and a member of MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, in the statement. "Those three things together could really make it ideal for use in humans."

The journal article describes how the researchers applied XPL to the skin of 12 subjects who suffered from that bane of middle- and old-age: the eye bag. Eye bags are caused by a protrusion of the fat pad that lies underneath the skin of the lower eyelid. XPL applied a steady compression that tightened the skin for about 24 hours.

When applied to a forearm, the material sprang back into shape after a suction cup pulled on the skin it was covering. It was also better at keeping skin hydrated than petroleum jelly and a "high-end commercial moisturizer," the MIT statement said.

"I think it has great potential for both cosmetic and noncosmetic applications, especially if you could incorporate antimicrobial agents or medications," said Thahn Nga Tran, a Harvard Medical School dermatologist and instructor who was not involved in the research.

The researchers do not consider XPL a true artificial skin. Japanese scientists have made sophisticated artificial skin using reprogrammed iPS cells that includes hair follicles and sebaceous glands. Tested on mice, the "skin" holds promise for transplantation in burn patients.

Last year, a separate group of Japanese researchers developed a bandage-like artificial skin designed to work as a temporary treatment for treating severe burns as a bridge before grafting. That advance was based on a the use of a collagen membrane scaffold. The skin was developed at  Saga University and the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, according to  The Japan Times.  

Living Proof has spun out the XPL technology to Olivo Laboratories, LLC, a new startup formed to focus on the further development of the XPL technology. Initially, Olivo's team will focus on medical applications of the technology for treating skin conditions such as dermatitis.    

Learn more about cutting-edge medical devices at MD&M East, June 14-15, 2016 in New York City.

Nancy Crotti is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.

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