Plasma activated hydrogels show promise in wound care

An international team of scientists has developed a wound dressing activated by ionised gas, an advance that could help tackle antibiotic resistance.


Developed by researchers from Sheffield University and University of South Australia, the treatment involves the plasma activation of hydrogel dressings with chemical oxidants that are effective in decontaminating and aid healing in chronic wounds. The team’s findings have been published in Advanced Functional Materials.

The researchers believe the new method is a significant advance in tackling antibiotic resistance pathogens and has the potential to change the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers and internal wounds.

In a statement, co-author Professor Rob Short, Professor of Chemistry at Sheffield University, said: “In England alone between 60,000 and 75,000 people are being treated for diabetic foot ulcers per week. Infection is one of the major risks. Increasingly, many infections do not respond to normal antibiotic treatment due to resistant bacteria which results in 7,000 amputations per year.”

The benefits of cold plasma ionised gas have already been proven in clinical trials, showing it controls infection and stimulates healing. This is due to the oxidants - reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS) - it produces when it mixes and activates the oxygen and nitrogen molecules in ambient air.

Dr Endre Szili, from the University of South Australia who led the study, said: “Antibiotics and silver dressings are commonly used to treat chronic wounds, but both have drawbacks.

“Growing resistance to antibiotics is a global challenge and there are also major concerns over silver-induced toxicity. In Europe, silver dressings are being phased out for this reason.”

The international team of scientists have shown that plasma activating hydrogel dressings with RONS makes the gel far more powerful, killing common bacteria.

Although diabetic foot ulcers were the focus of this study, the technology could be applied to all chronic wounds and internal infections.

“Despite recent encouraging results in the use of plasma activated hydrogel therapy [PAHT], we faced the challenge of loading hydrogels with sufficient concentrations of RONS required for clinical use. We have overcome this hurdle by employing a new electrochemical method that enhances the hydrogel activation,” said Dr Szili. 

As well as killing common bacteria (E. coli and P. aeruginosa) that cause wounds to become infected, the researchers said the plasma activated hydrogels might also help trigger the body’s immune system, which can help fight infections.

The next step will involve clinical trials to optimise the electrochemical technology for treatment in human patients.