A hydrogel material that treats cleft palates, a common birth defect in Britain with one in 700 babies affected, has been developed by researchers at Oxford University, the John Radcliffe Hospital and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The treatment involves inserting an anisotropic hydrogel material, which is similar to that used in contact lenses, under the mucosa of the roof of the mouth.

Once inserted, the hydrogel expands as fluid is absorbed, encouraging skin growth over and around the plate and after sufficient skin has been generated, the plate is removed and the cleft is repaired using the additional tissue.

The first clinical trials are expected to take place early in 2011 at ISIS using the Offspec instrument.