Because diabetics often have both nerve damage and poor circulation, they will often not notice when they receive skin wounds, which proceed to heal very slowly. Those wounds can thus become chronic, sometimes even leading to amputations. A new regenerative bandage, however, could help keep this from happening.

Led by Prof. Guillermo Ameer, a team from Illinois' Northwestern University started with a protein known as laminin. Found in the skin and most of the body's other tissues, it communicates with cells, prompting them to differentiate, migrate and adhere to one another.

The scientists were able to identify a specific segment of the protein, which plays a key role in the wound-healing process. That segment is made up of just 12 amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), and it's called A5G81. Because A5G81 is so much smaller and simpler than the entire laminin protein, it's much cheaper and easier to synthesize in the lab.

Ameer's team did so, then added it to a previously-developed antioxidant hydrogel bandage. That bandage takes the form of a liquid when initially applied to the skin, but then thickens into a stiff gel after being heated to body temperature. This allows it to do two things.

First, it's able to precisely conform to the exact surface contours of the wound, filling all its nooks and crannies instead of just lying on top of it. Secondly, the gel creates a three-dimensional scaffolding-like structure upon which cells can grow, encouraging tissue regeneration. And as an added bonus, whereas a regular bandage may rip adhered tissue away when it's being taken off, the hydrogel bandage can simply be rinsed off of the skin using a cool saline solution.

In lab tests conducted so far, it healed diabetic wounds 33 percent faster than one of the most popular bandages currently available, producing no adverse side effects. A larger pre-clinical trial is now being planned, and it is hoped that the bandage may be able to receive regulatory approval relatively quickly, as it releases no drugs or other substances.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.