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Regenerative Dressing Designed for Diabetic Wounds

Guillermo Ameer

Guillermo Ameer (Northwestern University)

12 June 2018. A biomedical engineering team developed a dressing for diabetic skin wounds that harnesses the body’s own cell structuring proteins to regenerate new skin tissue for faster healing. Researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago and Evanston, Illinois describe the dressing and tests with lab mice in yesterday’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (paid subscription required).

The team led by biomedical engineering and surgery professor Guillermo Ameer is seeking better therapy options for people with diabetes who develop slow-healing skin ulcers on their feet, a common complication of the disease. In people with diabetes, blood flow is reduced to the legs and feet, leading to nerve damage and reduced feeling in those regions, as well as slower healing of wounds. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in 2010, some 73,000 Americans required amputation of a leg or foot because of complications from diabetes. While malnutrition and immune deficiencies can also cause chronic wounds, CDC says people with diabetes are 8 times more likely to lose a leg or foot than people without diabetes.

While considerable work is being done with cell therapies and treatments for diabetic skin ulcers that promote release of growth factors, progress has been slow and these treatments so far are expensive and, according to the authors, show only modest improvements for patients. Ameer and colleagues took a different approach, focusing on laminin, a protein that supports the structure of basement membranes surrounding skin and other soft tissue cells. The researchers identified a peptide, a short chain of amino acids inside laminin called A5G81, important to wound healing.

“This particular sequence caught our eye,” says Ameer in a university statement, “because it activates cellular receptors to get cells to adhere, migrate, and proliferate.” The team found it could synthesize A5G81 in the lab at relatively low cost, and add the peptide to a dressing applied to the wound. The dressing is made of a hydrogel, a water-based polymer compound that can fit to the irregular shapes of diabetic foot ulcers. Ameer’s lab earlier developed hydrogel dressings with antioxidants that prevent cell damage and reduce the risk of inflammation, which the team adapted for this project.

The researchers tested the dressings in lab mice induced with diabetic skin ulcers, and found the dressings accelerate the healing of these wounds, compared to current dressings on the market. A key factor, says the team, is the hydrogel’s ability to conform better to the shape of the wound. The treatment is applied first as a liquid, which then changes into a gel in response to body heat. Other bandages, made from collagen films or sponges, can shift away from the wound. The tests also show no adverse effects of the dressings on the mice.

The team plans to test the dressing with larger animals. In the meantime, Northwestern University filed a patent application for the technology, listing Ameer and 3 of the co-authors as inventors. A key commercial advantage of the technology is its lack of drugs or biologics, which can speed the regulatory review process. “With this newer approach, we’re not releasing drugs or outside factors to accelerate healing,” notes Ameer. “And it works very well.”

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