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New Orleans (WGNO) – When scientists need a volunteer for medical research involving mosquitos, some brave human rolls up a sleeve to let the blood-suckers bite.

Not anymore.

In a partnership with Rice University, the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine now uses synthetic skin, no “ouch” required.

Researchers at Rice have created “hydrogels”– gelatin-like material that mimics skin– and when Tulane researchers put a small amount of real blood under the “fake” skin, mosquitos never know the difference.

Tulane researchers call it a “game-changer” in their studies of mosquito-borne diseases, because they no longer have to depend on the skin of human volunteers. The hydrogels are a consistent medium for the medical tests.

Also, Rice University has developed 3-D software so that Tulane researchers can use a 3-D printer to make as many hydrogels as needed– that’s a plus, when more than 1,000 mosquitos are bred for the Tulane lab each week.

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