Because second- and third-degree burns damage underlying layers of skin, they can take a long time to heal. Such extended healing periods are not only painful to the patient, but increase the risk of infection and scarring. While various medications are available to deal with pain and infection, there is currently no commercial treatment to speed up the rate of healing of burn wounds. Now researchers have developed a nanogel that could fill this hole.
Developed at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*STAR's) Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) in Singapore, the nanogel is based on the Institute's proprietary self-assembling ultrashort peptide technology. These are short sequences of amino acids that self-assemble into nanofibers and form a fibrous gel when water is added.
This gel, which is porous and rich in moisture, acts as a scaffold to support the growth of skin cells, thereby promoting skin regeneration. Importantly, the ultrashort peptides are non-immunogenic and non-toxic, making them suitable for biomedical applications.
The IBN team says the technology can heal burn wounds much faster than the silicone-based wound dressings currently used. Whereas recovery can take between two to 10 weeks with standard treatment, in animal studies conducted by the team close to 100 percent wound closure was achieved in two weeks, whereas silicone dressings had only healed 63 percent of the injured area.
"Ultimately, we hope to develop a gel that can incorporate bioactive agents to further enhance skin regeneration," says Dr Charlotte Hauser, IBN Team Leader and Principal Research Scientist. "Our peptides could also be used to develop synthetic skin substitutes for deeper burns."
The team's study appears in the journal Biomaterials.