The newly developed gel is similar to the one used in contact lenses, slowly absorbing water and swelling to ten times its original size.
Researchers plan to use it by inserting small discs of the gel under the skin close to the cleft, allowing the gel to expand as it takes in water from the body. New skin would then grow over the discs.
The gel will then be removed 6-8 weeks later, with the fresh skin used to stitch up the cleft.
Cleft palates and lips are the most common birth defect in Britain, affecting around 1,000 babies each year. The condition can be corrected by surgery, but severe cases can leave children with speech and appearance problems as they get older.
Scientists reckon the new treatment gel will be widely available by 2013.