A study of skin wound healing in 40 (human) volunteers has found that electrical stimulation significantly speeds up the healing process. The researchers hope to now develop and test dressings and devices that could be used in treatment of human or veterinary surgical wounds, sports injuries, and other serious skin trauma.

Participants in the study were inflicted with two identical wounds on each arm. One arm's wounds were left to heal normally while the other's were treated with tiny electrical shocks on four occasions over a two-week period. The electrical pulses stimulated a process called angiogenesis, which results in the formation of new blood vessels and increased blood flow to the damaged area. Wounds treated with electrical stimulation had a significantly smaller surface area, volume, diameter, and depth than those left to heal normally – they healed faster than normal, essentially.

The University of Manchester team that carried out the study has now partnered with a company called Oxford BioElectronics on a five-year project to develop technology to stimulate the same response in real-world clinical practice. It's believed that the work could transform how skin wounds are managed and treated.

A wound treated via electrical stimulation (right) versus one left to heal normally (left), after 10 days healing time(Credit: University of Manchester)

"When used in acute and chronic wounds, bandages are essentially just a covering," says study lead author Ardeshir Bayat. "With this technology we hope that the dressings will be able to make a significant functional contribution to healing the wounds and getting the patient back to full health as quickly as possible."

The future of wound healing is looking very bright indeed. Besides this electrical stimulation technology, scientists are working on nanoparticle therapies, artificial scabs, and specially-contoured silicone plaster. With luck, several options will soon make their way into the field. And then perhaps chronic wounds (wounds that remain open for longer than six weeks) will become a thing of the past.

A paper describing the research methodology and results in more detail has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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