When the sutures are removed from a surgical incision, the natural tension of the surrounding skin starts to pull the two edges of the wound away from one another. While the incision site will still usually heal, that wound-opening mechanical stress causes excessive scar tissue to form. Researchers from Stanford University, however, have created a new type of dressing that removes such stress, and has been shown to dramatically reduce scarring.

The "stress-shielding device" is made from a thin, elastic sheet of silicone, and is applied to wounds after the sutures have been removed. It sticks to the skin via an adhesive, and proceeds to contract evenly across the incision. This causes the two sides to actually be pressed together, not pulled apart.

In lab tests in which two groups of pigs received 1-inch (25 mm) incisions, one group receiving treatment with the device and one not, the amount of scarring was reduced six-fold when the device was utilized. Pigs were used, as their skin is similar to that of humans.

The Stanford scientists also experimented with using the dressing to treat 1 x 1.5-inch (38 mm) excisions on the pigs, as might be taken out in a scar-removal procedure. Again, the treated pigs ended up with much less scar tissue, suggesting that the device could be useful not only for avoiding scars, but also for getting rid of existing ones.

Finally, the dressing was tested on nine human female patients who had just undergone abdominoplasties, also known as tummy tucks. One side of each subject's abdominal incision was treated with the device, while the other side was not. A panel of three plastic surgeons and three laypeople then viewed the resulting scars, and rated the treated sides as looking better than the untreated.

Larger clinical trials are now planned, in order to include a greater ethnic diversity of subjects, and to determine the optimum amount of tension to use on wounds of different sizes and in different locations.

The research was published this week, in the journal Annals of Surgery.

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