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'Smart Dressings' for Chronic Wounds

Scientists hope to transform the treatment of chronic wounds with 'smart dressings' that not only help wounds heal but feedback to healthcare professionals on the wound's progress.

For many years all kinds of treatments have been used to help heal chronic wounds, including turmeric, garlic, and aloe vera. Leech therapy is still used today where the blood sucking action of the leeches helps to increase circulation, improve blood flow, and speed wound healing. Manuka honey may assist in wound healing too, through the promotion of tissue growth for wound repair.

Despite these and modern day conventional approaches to wound treatment, wounds still pose a significant challenge to patients and healthcare professionals alike. It's estimated that chronic ulcers and burns – that cause pain and reduced quality of life - affect over 20 million people a year globally.

The scientists behind a new ground-breaking project said that in the UK "dressings fail to heal over 40% of leg and foot ulcers within six months", and added how more than a quarter (28%) of such wounds persist for over a year. They explained how amputation and death is often the outcome of these wounds, and how limitations of current dressing technology cost the NHS an additional £3 billion every year.

Professor Matteo Santin, Professor of Tissue Regeneration at the University of Brighton and director of the University's Centre for Regenerative Medicine and Devices (CRMD), who leads the team of project scientists, said, "Every year, millions of people around the world suffer pain, discomfort and reduced quality of life from chronic wounds which heal too slowly or not at all. The result is not just human suffering, but also a huge financial cost to health services worldwide, including our own NHS."

Speed Up Wound Healing and Feedback to Doctors

The scientists pointed out that despite technological advances in wound dressing technology, the fundamental way these wounds are treated – by keeping them moist and protected from infection – "has remained largely unchanged for decades". They expressed how their project to develop 'smart dressings' that stimulate tissue repair and report on the body's healing processes could transform wound treatment around the world.

The team of scientists - which comprises a dozen experts from a range of fields including immunology, podiatry, biochemistry and fluid dynamics – have set themselves the goal of drastically reducing the human and financial cost of these wounds, by creating a "new generation of 'theranostic' dressings". These will not only actively speed up wound healing but also provide doctors with diagnostic information on the patient's healing process, they said.

Their new approach – which they described as 'game-changing' – involves the addition of a layer of modified biomaterials known as biomimetic macromolecules to the surface of each dressing. Designed to replicate the patient's natural tissue structures, this layer will "kick-start the body's healing processes", whilst encouraging new skin and blood cells to form in the wound area.

Transforming the Future of Diagnosis and Treatment

Professor Santin explained, "Building on almost three decades of pioneering research in a range of fields, our team aims to transform the way severe wounds are treated. Using pioneering technique we will create an entirely new generation of wound dressings that speed up the healing process and give doctors confidence that their patients are on track for a successful recovery."

The project – 'A biomimetic macromolecular platform for tissue healing and diagnostics at medical device interfaces: a personalised wound dressing model' – is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (part of UK Research and Innovation) through a £2.88m grant.   

As well as creating new biomimetic macromolecules which improve on existing biomaterials, the project also promises to transform healthcare approaches in areas beyond wound treatment. These include better understanding of molecular interactions within organs, and creating synthetic antibodies or novel molecular probes which can be used for new diagnostics in the treatment and diagnosis of a range of diseases.

Lead Image Credit: istock/Getty Images