This is what the biomask might look like once UT Arlington engineers build it. Image: University of Texas, Arlington
University of Texas, Arlington
(UT Arlington) engineers working with Army surgeons are developing a pliable,
polymer mask embedded with electrical, mechanical, and biological components
that can speed healing from disfiguring facial burns and help rebuild the faces
of injured soldiers.
The Biomask project is led by Eileen Moss, an electrical
engineer and research scientist based at the UT Arlington Automation &
Robotics Research Institute in Fort
Worth. Project partners include the U.S. Army
Institute of Surgical Research at the Brooke
Center in San
Antonio and Northwestern University in Chicago.
The work is funded through a $700,000 research grant from the U.S. Army Medical
Research & Materiel Command.
“This gives our wounded warriors hope,” said Robert G. Hale,
commander of the U.S. Army Dental and Trauma Research Detachment in San Antonio, which is part of the Institute of Surgical
Research. “That’s what it’s all about. We’re
improving their quality of life.”
Northwestern University and the Institute
of Surgical Research in San Antonio are currently
involved in researching wound healing, while Moss and her UT Arlington team are
focused on developing Biomask prototypes that will be tested by the other
collaborators. They will be able to provide Moss with feedback to improve the
Hale expects Moss’s device to be in use at military medial
centers within five years. The device also may aid in stem cell regeneration to
regrow missing tissue where the Biomask is placed, he said.
Moss began her work toward the Biomask as a doctoral student
at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her dissertation focused on research
into polymer-based microfluidic systems for biomedical applications. She
joined UT Arlington in 2007 to continue the research.
Current burn treatment typically involves removing damaged
areas followed by grafting. The outcomes may be good, but the procedures also
may result in deformities, speech problems, and scarring.
To aid burn victims, Army physicians have used polyethylene
foam on damaged tissue that applies a vacuum to promote healing in the wounds,
“We couldn’t use that on the face because topographically
the face is very complex,” he said. “We couldn’t get a good seal.”
Plastic surgeons had shown Hale a 3D, clear silicone mask
that compressed the burns slightly to avoid lumpy scars. Engineers were called
on to mesh the technologies and develop a better device.
“We wanted something that blended restorative medicine and
tissue engineering,” Hale said. “That’s where UT Arlington came in. Engineers
are problem solvers, and they’re solving this one right now.”
The Biomask will be embedded with arrays of sensing and
treatment components. The components will allow localized monitoring and
localized activation of treatment that can be applied to different parts of the
wound as needed, Moss said. The sensors will provide physicians feedback about
the healing process and help them direct appropriate therapy to different
“We think the Biomask will become the ultimate tool for
treating burns,” Moss said. “It’s a thinking device. As the wounds heal, the
Biomask will be able to adjust treatment to provide faster and better results.”
Moss said she and members of her team have traveled to San Antonio where Hale has
shared the stories of soldiers with traumatic injuries that may benefit from
“That really put the research into perspective,” Moss said. “It helps us keep focused on the goal, that of improving these soldiers’