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New material could close deep wounds

21st June 2011

Researchers in the United States are developing a new material that could help deep wounds to heal, using a jelly-like substance with micro-design as precise as a microchip's.

surgeonatwork

The patch could some day be used to seal large, deep wounds and help stimulate the regrowth of skin.

The research team at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, designed channels in a collagen implant that would later be filled with blood vessels by the cells in the patient's body.

Once the blood supply is established, the skin can begin regenerating itself.

The collagen template for the regrowth of tissue will be tested next in pigs, whose skin is not dissimilar from human skin.

Writing in the journal Biomaterials, the researchers said they were looking for the simplest material possible to aid healing.

Wounds can affect the thin, outer layer of skin known as the epidermis, or the deeper layer, called the dermis.

Shallow wounds affecting the epidermis can be covered with skin grafted from elsewhere on the body.

However, severe burns or injuries to the bone can often be left with no skin to cover them, because the dermis is gone.

Grafting of dermis and muscle from other parts of the body is possible, but creates a second wound that also needs to heal.

The researchers were also looking for ways to kick-start the growth of new blood vessels, which is crucial to the healing of wounds.

There are also artificial dermal templates which surgeons already sew into wounds to promote growth, but even those wounds cannot heal without contact with healthy soft tissue and a blood supply.

Healing can take weeks with currently available templates, leaving the patient in pain and at risk of infection.

This would be unavailable in caess where surrounding tissue had been irradiated to shrink a tumour, or where the wound goes down to the bone.

Cornell chemical engineer Abraham Stroock, worked alongside Weill Cornell Medical College plastic surgeon Jason Spector, and hit upon a method using collagen extracted from rats.

But it was the design of the channels inside it that prompted optimal blood vessel growth.

With the consistency of silken tofu, the new material is one millimetre thick and was initially tested in mice.

The cells were found to have penetrated the collegen structure within three days, while blood vessels had begun to crisscross it within two weeks.

The results suggest the new template may aid healing that is 30-40% faster than that offered by current templates.

The team now hopes to develop a sheet-like material that could be cut to fit and then suture into place over a wound to promote healing and protect against infection.


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