Age. Obesity. Diabetes. Threats to our health that are both widespread and rising. They are also the most common causes for chronic wounds – not only painful to the patients, but often complex and expensive to treat. At DTU Chemical Engineering, a PhD project could make a difference.
Most of us take for granted the amazing ability of our skin to heal itself. Yet, the reality for the 6.5 million patients affected by chronic wounds in the US in 2008 was quite different. At that time, it was estimated that around 25 billion USD are spent annually on treating chronic wounds. And due to the aging population and a sharp rise in widespread diseases such as diabetes and obesity, the numbers are growing rapidly. By mixing silicone with glycerol, former PhD student, now postdoc at the Danish Polymer Centre (DPC) Piotr Mazurek, has developed a completely new material which may solve 7 out of 8 of the issues on a recent “wish list” for the wound dressings of the future, providing a better and more cost-efficient solution.
Low price, high impact
Glycerol is abundant in the chemical industry and therefore very cheap. In addition to this, the methodology of mixing glycerol into silicone is quite simple and should be easy to upscale. This means producing wound dressings in this way, could be very cost-effective and therefore in high demand in a market, where competition is intense. Silicone and glycerol do not really mix; however, by spinning the ingredients at a certain rate and a certain temperature Mazurek found that he could suspend glycerol as tiny droplets inside the silicone:
“The more droplets I supplied, the more soft and stretchable the material got. In the end, the large number of droplets assembled like raindrops on a window creating a new structure in the material. This turned out to be very interesting indeed,” says Piotr Mazurek.
The market already offers multiple types of chronic wound dressings and it is no news that wound dressings can release substances such as antibiotics or anaesthesia. However, Mazurek’s invention goes a bit further.
According to Mazurek, the medicating dressings available in the market today, release most of the medicine rather rapidly and then the release slows down, which means a part of the medicine goes to waste and the dressing needs to be changed more often. The new material provides a longer period of medication, which could mean more time for other care assignments for nurses and that wounds gets a little more time to rest. The extended release of medicine is provided by taking advantage of glycerol’s ability to absorb. When the wound secreeds fluids, the fluids are absorbed into the droplets of glycerol, which at the same time pushes out the medicine, creating this constant treatment effect.
According to Mazurek, the combination with silicone adds some more important features from the “wish list”. Silicone has low adhesion which most people recognize from for instance baking molds. It also insulates very well and protects the wound from temperature changes. Furthermore, silicone allows for gaseous exchange so that the skin to breathe while keeping a moist environment around the wound which is key to the healing process.
“All of these properties combined in this new material gives it great potential. Not only as a wound dressing, but also for other applications. It seems like the sky’s the limit and I’m excited to see what the future will bring”, says Piotr Mazurek.