How to Heal Wounds Faster
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati say that a topical gel derived from a patient’s own blood may help prevent infection while speeding up the healing process. The finding could mean that, in the not too distant future, a concentrated “cocktail” of a person’s own blood could be used to help dress wounds, particularly in patients with diabetes or other disorders that slow the healing process.
Blood’s healing effects lie in its platelets–sticky, disc-shaped molecules that naturally flock to the site of a wound, binding to blood-vessel walls to stop bleeding. These platelets are thought to contain elevated levels of growth factors that, when released, initiate a cascade of events that ultimately heal the injury. In the past few years, clinicians have experimented with variations of platelet-derived gel, studying its effects on bone healing, tissue swelling, and bruising. But while scientists have reported positive results in some instances, David Hom, director of the Division of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Cincinnati, says that it’s still not clear how such gels effect wound healing in healthy individuals.
In an experiment published in the Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, Hom, then at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, and his colleagues studied the effect of platelet-derived gel on eight healthy individuals. Hom obtained blood samples from each subject, making a gel for each individual. After applying a local anesthesia, Hom then made small incisions in the upper thighs of each subject. The wounds on one leg were treated with the individual’s blood-derived gel. Hom applied a traditional antibiotic ointment to the wounds on the other leg.
Over six months, subjects returned for follow-up studies, at which the researchers took photographs and small biopsies of each wound. Hom and his colleagues found that in fact, the gel-treated wounds healed statistically faster than the controls did. And when Hom compared each subject’s gel-platelet counts, he discovered that those individuals with concentrations of platelets six times greater than their normal blood concentrations healed faster. “We found that at six times or greater, it was maybe passing a threshold, signaling to the cells to heal quicker,” says Hom.
Although Hom only studied healthy individuals, he says that he hopes to look at how such blood-based gels affect healing in patients with chronic wound-healing problems, such as diabetics or patients undergoing chemotherapy. “People might say, ‘Why do you want to accelerate healing if it’s going to heal anyway?’” says Hom. “Well, they’d be able to get out of the hospital quicker, and it would be able to reduce the risk of a wound reoccurring.”
Robert Grant, acting chief of Columbia University’s Division of Plastic Surgery, says that while the gel seems to speed up normal healing, more studies need to be done to investigate its effect on chronic wounds. “People with normal wound healing aren’t going to be accelerated so much that the cost is worthwhile,” says Grant. “The question is in patients who get radiation or multiple fractures or poor vascular disease: is the use of this beneficial?”
Meanwhile, Hom also sees a more tailor-made approach to treating wounds. “My future vision is that you might be able to say you’re lacking in this type of cell at this wound-healing stage,” says Hom. “So we’re going to give you back the growth factor you need to address the deficiency you have in that wound.”
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