Testing has proven that a patch containing deferoxamine speeds up healing in diabetic foot ulcers.

Diabetes is a chronic metabolic condition that affects many aspects of a person’s life, from diet to wound care. One of the biggest negative effects it has on recovery from a lesion is that it prevents proper circulation, which can cause a loss of sensation in the lower limbs and make it difficult for someone to recognize when he or she has a diabetic foot ulcer. As a result, wounds may go uncared for and develop infection and, in severe cases, gangrene that requires amputation. Another concern is poor circulation starves the affected area of oxygen, vitamins and nutrients that travel through the blood, which is why researchers have been hard at work trying to address this issue.

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Albert Einstein College of Medicine may have developed a product that improves the healing process, according to the Stanford University News Center. The solution is a patch that contains the drug deferoxamine (DFO), which has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for hemochromatosis, a disease that causes an unhealthy accumulation of iron in the body. This drug has also been found to correct a protein expression that is impaired by diabetes.

How does DFO benefit diabetic foot ulcers?

The researchers found that DFO supports the growth of new blood cells. This, in turn, can enhance blood flow to the extremities, providing wound sites with more oxygen, vitamins, nutrients and white blood cells for the proper and speedy development of new tissue as well as enhanced protection from bacteria and other wound infection-forming intruders. This drug has been long-known to benefit diabetic foot ulcers in this way. However, the medical community has been stumped about just how to deliver DFO to the wound site:

Developing the patch

DFO can be toxic when used for long periods of time, presenting medical scientists with a dilemma: how to safely distribute DFO to the wound site for as long as it takes for the wound healing process to conclude. As such, the researchers decided to test localized delivery – applying the medication directly to the ulcer using a patch placed over the wound.

The patch had to be designed so the drug would penetrate the outermost layer of skin, which would then activate the development of new blood vessels. The drug also needed to be modified so that it would slowly release. To achieve this, they surrounded the DFO with a surfactant that lowered the natural surface tension of the DFO and turned its molecules into microparticles that are small enough to penetrate the outer layer of skin. Testing on mice showed that this method was effective to improving wound healing without becoming toxic due to prolonged exposure to DFO.

According to lead researcher Geoffrey Gurtner, a Stanford professor and a Johnson & Johnson distinguished professor in surgery, the patch may serve as a powerful new therapeutic solution for an issue that has gone unsolved for so long.

“This same technology is also effective in preventing pressure ulcers, which are a major source of morbidity and mortality in patients with neurologic injury or the elderly,” Gurtner said in the news release. “The actor Christopher Reeve actually died from a pressure ulcer and not his spinal cord injury, which really emphasizes the extremely limited therapeutic options for these patients.”

If the patch is approved for use in treating diabetic foot ulcers, it may someday be used alongside dressings to aid in the healing process and reduce the risk of amputation.

Advanced Tissue is the nation’s leader in delivering specialized wound care supplies to patients, delivering to both homes and long-term care facilities.