Synthetic skin helps create new chemical weapon decontaminant

Ministry of Defence (MOD) scientists have developed a synthetic “skin” to make testing decontamination of chemical weapons more realistic.

The skin, made of an undisclosed material, allows researchers to test decontaminants on large samples attached to a mannequin head instead of small flat samples, taking into account facial contours and interaction with equipment such as respirators. 

The material, developed by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, mirrors the way real human skin spreads and absorbs liquid chemical warfare agents (CWAs) and allows any remaining contaminant to be extract for study after the test.

‘Once the procedure was done, the skin could be removed and the amount of contamination remaining quantified by solvent extraction,’ DSTL hazard management scientist Ian Shortman told The Engineer via email.

‘We’re able to apply controlled amounts of contamination to specific regions, and then cut the skin off the mannequin face to quantify the location of residual contamination following decontamination procedures.’

The researchers have already used the new skin to identify an alternative technology to the current standard Decontamination Kit Personal 1 (DKP1), which comprises a cloth pad containing liquid-absorbing powdered clay.

The skin, manufactured using an undisclosed method, had to be unreactive with CWAs and sufficiently robust and flexible that it could be applied to a bumpy surface but thick enough to prevent the mannequin underneath from being contaminated.

‘The primary challenge was that of ensuring contaminants didn’t run off the surface when mounted on an undulating surface,’ said Shortman. ‘This was addressed by modifying the topography and surface of the skin.

‘Further conditioning of the synthetic skin surrogate improved mechanical strength and removed interferents that affected subsequent analytical techniques. 

DSTl has filed a patent application and hoping to commercialise the technology through its technology transfer company Ploughshare Innovations.