The latest spinout company from Oxford University has been given a major cash injection to help with the development of a solid gel that will reduce the risk of tissue damage during operations.

The £500,000 investment will be used to develop the hydrogel that expands tissue allowing surgery to be carried out more easily and without complications.

It also gives surgeons an opportunity to control swelling making it ideal for delicate operations, particularly those performed on children.

The hydrogel is the result of a collaboration between materials scientists Jan Czernuszka, lecturer in materials at Oxford University and David Bucknall, professor of materials science at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States and plastic and reconstructive surgeons Marc Swan and Tim Goodacre based at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

Mr Czernuszka said: “I was approached by Tim and Marc who described a problem they had when treating children. Together with them, and David Bucknall we developed this device.

“This is a clear case of careful, precise processing of biocompatible materials to meet an immediate clinical need.

“We have taken hydrogels and processed them such that they expand uni-directionally, and in a controlled manner. This control at the appropriate length scale is crucial to the success of the device, and it is what makes it unique.”

The market for the product — which can be shaped by the surgeon before being inserted in the body — is broad.

It includes scar reconstruction following trauma, burns or cancer surgery and the treatment of congenital craniofacial conditions and limb deformities.

Mr Swan added: “There is always a clinical need for extra soft tissue in reconstructive plastic surgery, but until now there has been no reliable method of attaining the optimal amount through hydrogel technology.

“This device will allow clinicians to treat more cases, at a lower cost, and hopefully with a better patient outcome. We also expect new procedures and clinical indications to arise as a result of this breakthrough technology.”

The company has been backed by a range of venture capitalists as well as Isis Innovation which manages the commercialisation of ideas and technology at Oxford University.

Technology transfer manager Angela Calvert said: “It demonstrates the success of bringing together experts from different disciplines to address a market need.”