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New Cleft Palate Treatment to be Tested


Surgically correcting a cleft palate can be a complex process, and in severe cases there can be complications that continue on into adulthood. Studies involving the use of a hydrogel material have shown great promise as a new treatment for cleft palate and will be tested in clinical trials early next year.

Cleft Palate
During the first five to 10 weeks of pregnancy, areas of the face develop individually and then join together. The lip usually closes by week 5 or 6, and the palate by week 10. If the parts do not join properly, the result is a split, or cleft, which can vary in type and severity. According to the American Pregnancy Association, cleft lip and cleft palate make up the fourth most common birth defect in the United States, with one of every 700 infants affected by one or both of these conditions. It is the most common congenital craniofacial anomaly.

Children who are born with a cleft palate typically undergo surgery to repair the defect during the first two years of life. Ear problems may present during the first five years and may affect hearing. At a later age, changes in appearance or function may require surgical correction. Orthodontic treatment is often necessary, along with speech therapy, and during adolescence surgery to balance and refine facial appearance may be performed, including surgery to correct any deformity of the nasal septum.

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To correct a cleft palate, surgeons must reposition the tissue at the roof of the mouth (the palatal mucosa) to cover the cleft in the palate. If the cleft is too wide, radical surgery is needed to close the gap. In such cases, problems with speech and facial growth can cause complications for these children as they grow older.

New Cleft Palate Study
Researchers from two British institutions--University of Oxford and the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxfordshire—and the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States, evaluated a new material called hydrogel using the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s ISIS neutron source, a technique that allows scientists to examine the structure and dynamics of matter on a microscopic scale.

The scientists were able to extensively assess the hydrogel and determined it is suitable for use in the upcoming clinical trials in severe cases of cleft palate. The new treatment technique involves inserting a small plate made of hydrogel under the mucosa of the roof of the mouth of the patient. The insert expands as it absorbs fluid, which prompts the growth of skin to envelop the plate. Once enough skin has been generated, the plate is removed and the cleft is repaired using the newly generated tissue.

Preliminary results indicate that the use of this new hydrogel technique will eliminate the need for complex surgery to repair severe cases of cleft palate. “This research is particularly interesting as it addresses the most severe cases where the effects on the child’s development may be greatest,” according to Rosanna Preston, CEO of the Cleft Lip and Palate Association.

American Pregnancy Association
The Cleft Lip and Palate Association
International Craniofacial Institute
Science and Technology Facilities Council



I hope that this new method is successful. It would be extremely valuable for helping children who could not otherwise afford surgery. Cleft Palate Charities could use this in their work in other countries as an alternative to surgical procedures.