A revolutionary type of 'self healing' bandage that uses the patient's own cells is being developed. The technique has already been tried successfully on patients with diabetic ulcers and in the long-term could offer a more effective, quicker and cost efficient way of treating many types of slow-healing wounds such as pressure ulcers. The bandages are already available for patients with severe burns.
The bandages have been developed by CellTran Ltd., a spin-out company from the University of Sheffield. CellTran has grown from fundamental research funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Levels of diabetes in the UK are forecast to rise significantly in the years ahead. Chronic ulcers affect many diabetics, with sufferers often attending clinics for months or years to have their wounds dressed. CellTran offers an innovative but simple approach to healing diabetic ulcers and other slow-healing wounds, based on a combination of surface engineering and cell biology.
A small tissue sample is taken from a patient and a culture is grown from the cells in a laboratory. The cells are then placed on a membrane made from a medical-grade polymer. The membrane has been treated with a special cell-friendly coating, enabling skin cells to attach and grow on this surface. When cells are ready, the cell-membrane bandage is taken to the relevant clinic and used to dress the patient's wound instead of a standard bandage.
Because these cells belong to the patient, they are not rejected by the body but can actually transfer to the wound and grow. For particularly difficult wounds, the cells are applied every week. Early clinical studies have shown that weekly dressings enable these difficult wounds to heal in an average of eight weeks. Clinical trials are now under way, and the technique is also being used on other types of ulcer and on patients with extensive burns.
The underlying EPSRC-funded work at the University has focused on the development of surfaces that human cells will not only grow on but also transfer from to the patient's wound. It is also developing new approaches to culturing human skin cells without using animal derived products such as bovine serum.
The new bandages could take some pressure off healthcare budgets by reducing the need for long-term patient treatment. CellTran also aims to develop off-the-shelf products which can be used in the patient's home, avoiding visits to outpatient clinics altogether. Sheila MacNeil, CellTran's Research & Development Director and Professor of Tissue Engineering at the University of Sheffield, says; "we are moving the technology through to clinical use as quickly as we can and our objective is to make it as simple to use and as low-cost as possible".
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