Healing chronic skin wounds can be difficult, particularly when they span large areas, or when healing is complicated by health problems such as a lack of mobility. A team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has worked to improve the process, creating a more effective method of regeneration through use of a new material that creates a porous scaffold, allowing wounds to heal more effectively.

When doctors are presented with a skin wound that resists repair, they often turn to water-based dressings known as hydrogels. These are great at keeping the wound protected and hydrated, but could do more in the way of facilitating skin regeneration.

To improve things, the UCLA team, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), developed a new hydrogel that includes microporous annealed particles (MAPs), which are tiny synthetic spheres designed to grip onto one another to form a connected yet permeable structure. When applied to a wound, the MAPs create a porous scaffolding that can be colonized by new cells, allowing skin and blood vessels to start forming.

The use of scaffolding isn't entirely new – it's something that researchers have tried out before – but the UCLA team's method is superior in its ability to take on the shape of the wound, with the MAPs moving into the wound before binding together to form the scaffolding.

In order for the material to be effective for wound healing, it needs to be able to degrade in a timely manner – not so fast that it would fail to provide sufficient support for the new tissue, but not so slowly that it causes scarring. The newly-developed hydrogel is particularly effective in this regard, with the ability to have its chemical and physical properties tuned to provide customized degradation rates for specific wound beds.

The researchers didn't just do theoretical work on the material, but also performed extensive testing to demonstrate its effectiveness. They first showed that the material was able to form a porous scaffold in just two days when used with human stem cells, with skin growth observed over one week.

The team then moved on to test the MAP hydrogel on the wounds of laboratory mice, finding that over a five-day period, 40 percent of wounds closed. By contrast, not a single wound healed on a second group of mice, who were treated with a non-porous hydrogel. Similar results were observed in a seven-day test, with 40 percent of the MAP treated wounds closing, while 20 precent of those with no hydrogel closed, and none with a non-porous gel healed.

"This novel material provides all the necessary physical properties for strong support, and degrades gradually as new skin is formed," says NIH program director Rosemarie Hunziker. "It is elegant in both is complexity and simplicity, and offers real hope to patients struggling with debilitating wounds."

The findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Materials. You can check out the video below for an animation of how the new hydrogel works.

Source: NIH