Northwestern University researchers have developed a first-of-its-kind small, flexible, stretchable bandage that accelerates healing by delivering electrotherapy directly to the wound site.
In an animal study, the new bandage healed diabetic ulcers 30% faster than in mice without the bandage.
The bandage also actively monitors the healing process and then harmlessly dissolves — electrodes and all — into the body after it is no longer needed. The new device could provide a powerful tool for patients with diabetes, whose ulcers can lead to various complications, including amputated limbs or even death.
The research was published online today (Feb. 22) in the journal Science Advances. It marks the first bioresorbable bandage capable of delivering electrotherapy and the first example of a smart regenerative system.
“When a person develops a wound, the goal is always to close that wound as quickly as possible,” said Northwestern’s Guillermo A. Ameer, who co-led the study. “Otherwise, an open wound is susceptible to infection. And, for people with diabetes, infections are even harder to treat and more dangerous. For these patients, there is a major unmet need for cost-effective solutions that really work for them. Our new bandage is cost-effective, easy to apply, adaptable, comfortable and efficient at closing wounds to prevent infections and further complications.”
“Although it’s an electronic device, the active components that interface with the wound bed are entirely resorbable,” said Northwestern’s John A. Rogers, who co-led the study. “As such, the materials disappear naturally after the healing process is complete, thereby avoiding any damage to the tissue that could otherwise be caused by physical extraction.”
An expert in regenerative engineering, Ameer is the Daniel Hale Williams Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and professor of surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He also directs the Center for Advanced Regenerative Engineering (CARE) and the predoctoral Regenerative Engineering Training Program, funded by the National Institutes of Health. Rogers is the Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Neurological Surgery at McCormick and Feinberg. He also directs the Querrey Simpson Institute for Bioelectronics.
Power of electricity
Nearly 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and about 15 to 25% of that population develops a diabetic foot ulcer at some point in their lives. Because diabetes can cause nerve damage that leads to numbness, people with diabetes might experience a simple blister or small scratch that goes unnoticed and untreated. As high glucose levels also thicken capillary walls, blood circulation slows, making it more difficult for these wounds to heal. It’s a perfect storm for a small injury to evolve into a dangerous wound.
The researchers were curious to see if electrical stimulation therapy could help close these stubborn wounds. According to Ameer, injuries can disrupt the body’s normal electrical signals. By applying electrical stimulation, it restores the body’s normal signals, attracting new cells to migrate to the wound bed.