Although we've already heard about hydrogels that help to heal chronic wounds, the University of New Hampshire's Asst. Prof. Kyung Jae Jeong states that most of them have a shortcoming – they're not porous enough. An inexpensive micro-hole-filled gel made by his team, however, is claimed to perform much better.

The idea behind most hydrogels is that they get applied to "difficult" wounds such as diabetic foot ulcers, either being injected into them or put on as a dressing. The gels then create a form-fitting matrix across the surface of those injuries, promoting healing by keeping the wounds moist, preventing bacteria from entering them, and in some cases releasing medication.

According to Jeong, though, cells from adjacent tissue often have difficulty growing through these relatively non-porous hydrogels and into the wound, resulting in a slow healing process.

In order to address that problem, his team created a new injectable hydrogel. It consists of commercially available gelatin microgels (tiny spheres) measuring a few hundred microns in diameter, stuck to one another using an enzyme known as microbial transglutaminase (mTG). The gelatin is derived from cellulose, which occurs naturally in the body's connective tissues – including skin.

The resulting hydrogel is stable enough to form a firm matrix over wounds, yet the spaces between the microgels are plentiful enough that neighboring cells are able to easily move through them. Additionally, the hydrogel can be loaded up with protein drugs such as platelet-derived growth factor, which is slowly released into the wound to boost healing.

In lab tests, it was found that tissue cells migrated into the new hydrogel much more readily than was the case with traditional less-porous gels. It is now hoped that once developed further, the material could be used not only on things like diabetic ulcers, but also on wounds to the cornea or on organs in surgical procedures.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal ACS Applied Bio Materials.