Heat-responsive bandage helps heal wounds

The new bandage encourages the growth of blood vessels at the wound site, accelerating the healing process(Credit: Adobe)

Over the years, scientists have come up with bandages to detect bedsores before they appear, paint-on bandages that tell doctors how the healing process is coming along, and dressings that change color when an infection is present. Now, a team of researchers from Northwestern University has created a stem cell-attracting bandage with a single purpose in mind – giving the body a helping hand in healing diabetic wounds.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, an estimated 415 million people across the globe suffer from the condition, and one person dies from it every six seconds. As the disease develops, it can cause nerve damage, and often patients will lose the ability to fully feel their feet. This means that when a diabetic person cuts their foot, or gets something as ordinary as a blister, they sometimes won't notice it at all, and therefore won't treat it.

Additionally, high glucose levels associated with the condition can thicken capillary walls, slowing down blood circulation and making it more difficult for the body to get the cells to the wound site, and get the healing process underway. When the two issues are combined, it's easy to see how a tiny injury can result in a life-threatening situation.

Scientists have searched for solutions to the issue, but they've yet to land on anything that tackles the situation without significant side effects. For example, according to a report from Northwestern, a gel has been developed that helps with healing, but its contents have been linked with increased cancer risk.

A new bandage developed by a team at the university could improve the situation. It's constructed from polyethylene glycol – a plastic commonly used for medical applications – combined with the protein SDF-1. The protein is the material's secret weapon, as it attracts stem cells to the wound, which can then begin rapidly creating new blood vessels to improve circulation and generally accelerate the healing process.

The bandage is thermo-responsive, meaning it can be applied to the wound bed in liquid form, solidifying into a gel at body temperature. Once applied to a wound, it slowly releases the protein, helping to speed up healing. Once the bandage has done its job, cooling it down – which can be done with a chilled saline solution – turns it back into a liquid, which makes it easier to remove than standard bandages, which can cause damage to wounds when removed.

Testing out the regenerative bandage, the team found that it was indeed much more effective than standard techniques and materials, with blood flow significantly increased at the wound site.

"The repair process is impaired in people with diabetes," said study member and professor of biomedical engineering, Guillermo Ameer. "By mimicking the repair process that happens in a healthy body, we have demonstrated a promising new way to treat diabetic wounds."

The researchers published their work online in the Journal of Controlled Release.

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