Hydrogel treats wounds, protects against bacteria

Monday, 31 May, 2021

Hydrogel treats wounds, protects against bacteria

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have developed a specially designed hydrogel that prevents infections in wounds and works against all types of bacteria — including antibiotic-resistant ones. Described in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering, the material offers great hope for combating a growing global problem.

Research and development of the new material has been ongoing for many years at Professor Martin Andersson’s group at Chalmers, with a particular focus on the possibilities for wound care. The main purpose of the research so far has been to explore new medical technology solutions to help reduce the use of systemic antibiotics, in order to combat the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Mimicking the natural immune system

The active substance in the new bactericidal material consists of antimicrobial peptides — small proteins which are found naturally in our immune system. Prof Andersson explained, “With these types of peptides, there is a very low risk for bacteria to develop resistance against them, since they only affect the outermost membrane of the bacteria. That is perhaps the foremost reason why they are so interesting to work with.”

The beneficial properties of antimicrobial peptides have been known for some decades, and thousands of different varieties occurring in the immune systems of humans, animals and plants have been discovered. Researchers have long tried to mimic and use their natural function to prevent and treat infections without having to use traditional antibiotics; however, because the peptides are broken down as soon as they come in contact with blood or other body fluids, successful clinical usage has proved elusive. The researchers managed to overcome this problem through the development of a nanostructured hydrogel into which the peptides are permanently bound, creating a protective environment.

“The material is very promising,” said Chalmers doctoral student Edvin Blomstrand. “It is harmless to the body’s own cells and gentle on the skin. In our measurements, the protective effect of the hydrogel on the antimicrobial peptides is clear — the peptides degrade much slower when they are bound to it.”

Image credit: Anna-Lena Lundqvist/Chalmers.

The new material was shown to work very well, allowing the peptides to be applied directly to wounds and injuries on the body, with the effect of both preventing and treating infection. According to Prof Andersson, “We expected good results, but we were really positively surprised at quite how effective the material has proven.”

The researchers claim their new material is the first medical device to make successful use of antimicrobial peptides in a clinically and commercially viable manner. It is non-toxic, so it can be used directly on the skin, and offers the flexibility to be used in several different types of products.

“So far we have mainly envisioned the material as a wound care dressing, but we are working on a new study investigating the potential for a wound care spray,” Blomstrand said.

From lab to market

In recent years, foundational research into the antimicrobial peptide hydrogel has run in parallel with commercial development through spin-off company Amferia, co-founded by Prof Andersson in 2018. The material and the idea, which is currently developed as an antibacterial wound patch, has generated interest around the world, attracting significant investment and receiving several awards. The company is now working intensively to get the material to market so that it can benefit wider society.

Before the new material can benefit hospitals and patients, clinical studies are needed, which are ongoing. A CE marking of the material is expected to be completed in 2022. Furthermore, the wound patch version of the new material is undergoing trials in veterinary care, for treating pets. Amferia is already collaborating with a number of veterinary clinics around Europe where the hydrogel is now being tested.

“Amferia has recently entered into a strategic partnership with Sweden’s largest distributor of premium medical and diagnostic devices to jointly launch these wound care products for the Swedish veterinary market during 2021,” Prof Andersson said.

Top image credit: Anna-Lena Lundqvist/Chalmers

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