University of Delaware scientists are launching a new project to better treat chronic wounds.

Most estimates (like those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) put the number of patients with chronic wounds in the U.S. at about 6.5 to 7 million individuals. Fortunately for these people, there are myriad treatment options available, and many address the unique factors (infections, past medical history, etc.) that result in these complex wounds.

There are several wound dressing types, like hydrocolloid and collagen that remove slough and foster tissue regrowth. Many topical ointments, like alginate, are perfect for chronic leg ulcers. Hypochlorous acid, meanwhile, is perfect for tackling the biofilms that develop on chronic wounds. And research into more effective treatments happens all the time, as with the development of solutions like the Coban 2 Compression System and Hydrofera Blue Ready.

A great big mission

Yet even with all these groundbreaking innovations, it might not be enough. Millicent Sullivan is an associate professor in the University of Delaware’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. In an interview with the school’s UDaily publication, she said that while therapies are effective, there are still too many patients experiencing wound healing impediments.

To better address these chronic wounds, Sullivan and her research partner Kristi Kiick recently received a $1.4-million grant via the National Institutes of Health. Working alongside a team from the University of Pennsylvania, the research team embarked on a four-year project called “Collagen Turnover-Stimulated Gene Delivery to Enhance Chronic Wound Repair.” The project will involve researching and developing a number of possible solutions to the problems of chronic wounds.

That includes cellular scaffolds, which provide the “foundation” for new tissue growth, ointments that deliver important growth factors and wound dressings made of two or more materials (which might improve each element’s effectiveness). Other methods or biomaterial applications may also be explored.

Sullivan and the rest of the team also want to find a way to utilize the remodeling capability of the extracellular matrix. According to Podiatry Today, the ECM is vital in the wound healing process, as it directs cells and dictates tissue formation, among other functions. Eventually, the scientists want to use the ECM to stimulate the production of growth factors.

As of now, their plan involves modifying the body’s collagen and creating unique nanostructures that can streamline new tissue growth. The result, Kiick explained, would give researchers “turnability,” allowing them to turn these cells on and off to coordinate wound repair.

Given the length of the project, it may be some time before results are released. Even still, these efforts are especially promising to the millions of people coping with chronic wounds each day.


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