The skin is the body's largest organ, but replacing it has proven a complex and so far unsuccessful quest. Today, researchers say they have developed a "second skin" made of polymer that is strong, stretchy and adherent, just like the real thing.
"It's kind of like an invisible Spanx that you could put on skin," said Robert Langer, professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a co-author on the study, which is published today in the journal Nature Materials.
"We created a new material that is safe," Langer said. "We've put it on human beings. It's adherent and mechanically strong. Its easy to apply."
Langer, who also co-founded the firm Olivo Labs that is manufacturing the second skin, said he has been working on the project with his colleagues for the past eight years.
The silicon-based film forms from two different creams that are applied one after the other. The combination forms an invisible polymer layer that reinforces the skin beneath, while also providing a breathable barrier layer on top, according to Langer and Olivo.
"The big challenge is finding something with all those properties (elastic, invisible, durable, moisturizing, adheres well)," Langer told DNews. "The key way to address that is through combinatorial chemistry. We created this library of hundreds of polymers and discovered one of them that worked really well."
The human skin changes over time as the result of diseases, aging and environmental conditions. That can lead to a loss in skin function and changes of appearance.