In the not-too-distant future, wounds may be covered not just with regular bandages, but with special "microvascular stamps" that promote and direct the growth of new blood vessels. A team of scientists from the University of Illinois have already created such a dressing, which could ultimately have applications far beyond the healing of cuts.

The stamp measures approximately one centimeter across, and is made from layers of a hydrogel containing polyethylene glycol polymer and edible methacrylic alginate gelatin. Its other key ingredient, however, is living cells. These are said to release growth factors in a more sustained and targeted manner than has been possible with previous dressings that contained growth factors alone, without cells.

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The growth factors are able to permeate the underside of the stamp through channels of various sizes. When the stamp was tested on the surface of a chicken embryo, the network of new blood vessels that formed after one week mirrored the pattern of those channels.

An obvious use for the stamp would be as a covering for wounds such as surgical incisions, which it would likely heal faster, with less scarring. The U Illinois researchers, however, also believe that it could serve to direct new blood vessels around blocked arteries, increase the blood flow in poorly-vascularized tissue, and "normalize" the blood vessels feeding a tumor, in order to improve the delivery of anti-cancer drugs.

A paper on the research is soon to be published in the journal Advanced Materials.