Natural wound-healing capabilities are compromised for people living with diabetes who can develop chronic wounds that are slow to heal. These non-healing wounds could cause serious infections resulting in outcomes such as limb amputation.
Developed by a team at the National University of Singapore (NUS), each treatment involves the application of a bandage pre-loaded with a hydrogel containing skin cells for healing and magnetic particles. To maximise therapeutic results, a wireless external magnetic device is used to activate skin cells and accelerate the wound healing process. According to NUS, the ideal duration of magnetic stimulation is about one to two hours.
The wound-healing gel is loaded with two types of FDA-approved skin cells – keratinocytes (essential for skin repair) and fibroblast (for formation of connective tissue) – and tiny magnetic particles. When combined with a dynamic magnetic field generated by an external device, the mechanical stimulation of the gel encourages dermal fibroblasts to become more active.
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Lab tests showed that the increased fibroblast activity generated by the magnetic wound-healing gel increases the cells’ growth rate by approximately 240 per cent and more than doubles their production of collagen, which is a crucial protein for wound healing. It also improves communication with keratinocytes to promote the formation of new blood vessels.
While the research has focussed on healing diabetic foot ulcers, the technology has potential for treating a wide range of complex wounds such as burns.
“Conventional dressings do not play an active role in healing wounds,” said Assistant Professor Andy TAY, who leads the team comprising researchers from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at NUS College of Design and Engineering as well as the NUS Institute for Health Innovation & Technology. “They merely prevent the wound from worsening and patients need to be scheduled for dressing change every two or three days.”
In contrast, the NUS invention is reported as taking an ‘all-in-one’ approach to wound healing, accelerating the process on several fronts.
Asst Prof Tay continued: “Our technology addresses multiple critical factors associated with diabetic wounds, simultaneously managing elevated glucose levels in the wound area, activating dormant skin cells near the wound, restoring damaged blood vessels, and repairing the disrupted vascular network within the wound.”
The NUS team’s work is detailed in Advanced Materials, on 8 September 2023.
Currently, more than half a billion people globally are living with diabetes and this number is expected to rise. Consequently, chronic diabetic wounds such as foot ulcers (one of the most common and hardest to treat wounds) have become a major global healthcare challenge. Around 15 to 25 per cent of patients with diabetes will develop a diabetic foot ulcer during their lifetime.