Magnetic gel enables faster diabetic wound healing

Tuesday, 21 November, 2023

Magnetic gel enables faster diabetic wound healing

Diabetic patients, whose natural wound-healing capabilities are compromised, often develop chronic wounds that are slow to heal and can cause serious infections resulting in painful outcomes, including amputation. A research team led by the National University of Singapore (NUS) has now engineered an innovative magnetic wound-healing gel that accelerates the healing of diabetic wounds and reduces the rate of recurrence, which they have described in the journal Advanced Materials.

“Conventional dressings do not play an active role in healing wounds,” said team leader Assistant Professor Andy Tay. “They merely prevent the wound from worsening and patients need to be scheduled for dressing change every two or three days. It is a huge cost to our healthcare system and an inconvenience to patients.”

By contrast, the NUS invention takes a comprehensive ‘all in one’ approach to wound healing, accelerating the process on several fronts. According to Tay, “Our technology addresses multiple critical factors associated with diabetic wounds, simultaneously managing elevated glucose levels in the wound area, activating dormant skin cells near the wound, restoring damaged blood vessels and repairing the disrupted vascular network within the wound.”

Skin cells experience mechanical forces continuously from normal daily activities, including walking, but patients with wounds are usually advised not to carry out such activities as this could kill the remaining cells essential for healing. Tay explained, “What our team has achieved is to identify a sweet spot by applying gentle mechanical stimulation. The result is that the remaining skin cells get to ‘work out’ to heal wounds, but not to the extent that it kills them.”

Each treatment involves the application of a bandage pre-loaded with the specially designed wound-healing gel, which contains two types of FDA-approved skin cells — keratinocytes (essential for skin repair) and fibroblast (for formation of connective tissue) — and tiny magnetic particles. When combined with a dynamic magnetic field generated by a wireless external device, the mechanical stimulation of the gel encourages dermal fibroblasts to become more active. The ideal duration of magnetic stimulation is 1–2 hours.

Lab tests showed that the increased fibroblast activity generated by the magnetic wound-healing gel increases the cells’ growth rate by approximately 240% and more than doubles their production of collagen — a crucial protein for wound healing. It also improves communication with keratinocytes to promote the formation of new blood vessels, promoting overall wound health and reducing the chances of recurrence.

While the magnetic wound-healing gel has shown great promise in improving diabetic wound healing, it could also revolutionise the treatment of other complex wound types. As noted by NUS research fellow and co-author Dr Shou Yufeng, the invention “addresses fundamental challenges in wound healing, such as creating a conducive microenvironment and promoting tissue regeneration”.

“Our technology’s adaptability, as well as its general ease of use for patients, means that it can be applied to improve wound healing in various situations beyond diabetes, including burns and chronic non-diabetic ulcers,” he said.

With a patent now filed, the researchers are conducting more tests to further refine the magnetic wound-healing gel to improve its effectiveness. They are also collaborating with a clinical partner to test the effectiveness of the gel using diabetic human tissues.

“This is major step forward in active wound care,” Tay said.

Image caption: A bandage (centre) pre-loaded with magnetic hydrogel (left) is placed on the wound and an external device (right) is used to accelerate the wound healing process.

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