Scientists have developed a specially designed biochip that uses electricity to heal wounds up to three times faster than normal.
It is well known that electric fields can guide the movements of skin cells, pushing them towards the site of an injury for example. In fact, the human body generates an electric field that does this naturally. Researchers at the University of Freiburg in Germany therefore set out to amplify the effect.
While it won’t heal serious injuries with the speed of a Marvel superhero, it could drastically reduce the time it takes for small tears and lacerations to heal.
For people with chronic wounds that take a long time to heal, such as the elderly, people with diabetes, or people with poor blood circulation, recovering quickly from frequent small open cuts could be a real lifesaver.
“Chronic wounds are a huge societal problem that we don’t hear much about,” says Maria Asplund, a bioelectronics scientist at the University of Freiburg and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.
“Our discovery of a method that can heal wounds up to three times faster may be a game-changer for diabetics and the elderly, among others, who often suffer a lot from wounds that don’t heal.”
Although it is established that electricity can aid in healing, the impact of the strength and direction of an electric field on the process has never been well established.
The researchers therefore developed a bioelectronic platform and used it to grow artificial skin made up of cells called keratinocytes, which are the most common type of skin cell and crucial for the healing process.
They also compared applying electric fields to one side of the wound with alternating fields to both sides of the wound.
Healthy keratinocytes and keratinocytes engineered to resemble those of people with diabetes migrated up to three times faster than skin cells without any electrical interference, with electrical thrust on only one side of the wound proving the most effective way to repair the artificial skin as quickly as possible. . Fortunately, none of the cells were damaged by the electric fields tested.
“We saw that when we mimic diabetes in the cells, the wounds on the chip heal very slowly,” Asplund says. “However, with electrical stimulation, we can increase the speed of healing so that cells affected by diabetes almost match healthy skin cells.”
Wounds that do not heal in a typical, rapid fashion increase the risk of infection and further delay healing. In the most severe cases, this can lead to amputation, making any process that speeds up the process worth investigating for patients and healthcare providers.
The next step is to test how it all works on actual wounds in living humans, rather than lab-grown skin cells. The development of practical applications will be based on the translation of materials used cheap and easily available in the experiment into real situations.
“We are now looking at how different skin cells interact during stimulation, to get closer to a realistic wound,” says Asplund. “We want to develop a concept to be able to ‘scan’ wounds and adapt the stimulation to the individual wound.”
“We believe this is the key to effectively helping people with slow-healing wounds in the future.”
The research has been published in Lab on a chip.