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"Tannable" silicone for artificial parts.

If Henry LaFuente has his way, people who wear a prosthetic device--whether an arm, leg, ear, or nose--soon will be able to feel more comfortable wearing their prosthesis in public. LaFuente, adjunct clinical instructor of ocular prosthesis, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, is developing a new silicone/nylon covering that will allow for changes in color, much as the human skin darkens as a person gets a tan during the summer.

"The problem that patients who wear a prosthesis have is that their natural skin tone changes with the seasons, and the covering on their prosthesis remains the same color and doesn't match. What I am developing is a material that actually can change colors." LaFuente's "skin"--approximately a millimeter-and-a-half thick--is made up of two layers of silicone and nylon, separated by a space into which a coloring agent can be injected. "This allows for the injection of a dye to make the covering darker as the patient's natural skin turns brown in the summer. The process also can be reversed in the winter by removing the coloring agent."

Silicone is much more durable than materials previously used to cover prosthetic devices, such as polyvinyl chloride, latex, and urethane. "The life of those materials was about six months, compared to easily as long as two years, and perhaps up to five years, with silicone. We're incorporating nylon into the material, which should last indefinitely, as long as the patient takes care of it."

LaFuente envisions many prosthetic applications for the material, including large limbs, such as arms and legs. Its lifelike look also makes it ideal for facial prosthetics, such as noses and ears. "The skin feels natural and has a natural look. You also can do other things, such as making blood vessels prominent, for example, to make the material look much more like human skin.

"Fabulous advancements in electronics used in prosthetics are being made at a rapid pace. A durable, more attractive and natural looking material is needed to help protect those sophisticated devices."
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Title Annotation:prostheses
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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