Keeping the Good In and the Bad Out with Better Bandages

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intelligent bandages for healing

Whether it is in an outdoors first aid kit, in the operating room or on a battlefield, bandages have a very important role in holding us together and keeping infection out. Without bandages, larger wounds will continue to bleed and have difficulty clotting. Equally important, wounds can quickly become infected without bandages to cover them.

With such a significant role in basic medical treatment, many research institutions are actively seeking to create a better bandage. Ultimately one important factor in this endeavor is the ability to create a bandage that sticks only where it is supposed to when it is supposed to. It is also rather essential that the materials and adhesives in the bandage not poison the patient.

Having such immediate practical benefits, much of the research is the result of collaborative partnerships between academic institutions and the medical supply industry. With such willingness by industry to work with researchers, you can bet that the potential for making money is very high.

Now, when we normally think of bandages, two types might come to mind. The adhesive plastic or fabric type with a small white patch can be found in most every medicine cabinet. The two part gauze and tape variety is more familiar to those who have had some form of surgery. However, while these two types are common, the state of the art in bandages attempts to do more.

One form of bandage that has received a fair amount of attention was the spray on liquid bandage developed at the New Jersey Center for Biomaterials at Rutgers University. The bandage is created when two polymer ingredients sprayed into a wound mix to form a gel. The gel sticks to the skin around the wound but does not stick to the wounded tissue. Initially developed for military purposes, the value of this bandage is to prevent blood loss and to keep bacteria and other contaminants out of the wound when soldiers are far from medical care.

For holding together tissue deeper within a wound, the bandage tape created by researchers from Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is also very impressive. The biodegradable rubber tape is special in that the surface is engineered with nanometer scale ridges and valleys that allow it to get a very strong grip on tissue. Covered with glue derived from sugar, it is able to adhere in the wet environment inside the body. With such tape, torn and damaged tissues can be held together to facilitate healing.

In any larger wound, a key immediate risk is blood loss. One material that has proven helpful in promoting the clotting of blood to stem the flow is called chitosan. This material is created by chemically reacting the shells of shrimp and many other hard-shelled ocean organisms. The resulting material does not cause an immune system reaction and has the ability to induce clotting. Given this, researchers are working to find ways to use and enhance the effectiveness of this material.

In particular, researchers at the University of Maryland have created something like a sponge that allows for effective blood clotting within a minute and the ability to continue clotting in a wound for several hours. The additional benefits of chitosan within wounds are that it is both antibacterial and antifungal. The combination is very powerful for wound treatment.

Once the risk of bleeding and infection are addressed, the next task for a bandage is to aid the healing process. Here again chitosan has found value as researchers from Gazi University in Turkey have used the material in gel form in combination with skin growth enhancers to treat burns. Their research has found that regrowth of skin is enhanced significantly with such treatment.

Another material that also aids in healing wounds is a polymer gel developed by researchers at the University of Delaware. When injected into a wound, the material reacts to form scaffolding into which cells can grow. Additional cells can also be included in the gel along with nutrients to further speed the healing process.

Using similar concepts of scaffolding and externally grown cells, another variation on the bandage has been developed by researchers at the University of Sheffield. In this case, the researchers created a bandage to treat wounds such as burns, diabetic ulcers and pressure ulcers. By creating a bandage with the patients own externally grown cells attached to it, the researchers are able to cause the cells to transfer to the wound and speed the rate of healing. Given the infection risks associated with slow healing wounds, this technique has significant potential.

While several of these bandages are not yet available for use, many are and others will soon complete clinical trials. With such potential to improve the way wounds are treated and to enhance healing, these technologies will prove quite valuable whether in surgery or in disaster zones.

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