It's been said that time heals all wounds, but when it comes to tissue regeneration, faster is better. The more quickly skin wounds heal, the less likely infection and scarring are to occur. Nonetheless, the complex process of tissue repair and regrowth tends to be slow and fragile. Groundbreaking research, with the help of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM), now suggests a new injectable material may transform the way skin wounds are treated.
'Sealing' the current approach
Because moisture is key to a timely recovery, clinicians try to keep the affected area damp by applying non-porous hydrogel dressings or ointments. Although these approaches provide moisture, they don't create a structure — or scaffold — that allows new cells to grow optimally. Another technique, which involves implanting and suturing a porous scaffold into the wound, can be tedious and may create an imperfect seal over the area.
To solve these problems, Philip Scumpia, MD, a clinical instructor of dermatology and dermatopathology at DGSOM, teamed up with Dino Di Carlo, PhD, Tatiana Segura, PhD, and other investigators at the UCLA School of Engineering to develop an injectable hydrogel that creates this necessary scaffold, allowing new tissue to attach and grow within it. "Our technology combines the positive aspects of existing approaches without the negatives," explains Dr. Scumpia, who helped put the gel to the test in the lab.
A way to MAP healthy tissue
The new gel links premade hydrogel beads together to form the porous hydrogel within the wound. These beads not only stick to one another, but also to the surrounding tissue, resulting in a scaffold that cells can use to spur tissue healing while sealing the wound. Known as microporous annealed particles, or MAP gel, it eventually degrades, leaving freshly grown tissue in its place. The UCLA team recently tested the effects of the MAP gel in a series of "in vitro" and "in vivo" tests and found that significant tissue regeneration occurred in the first 48 hours, with much more healing over five days compared to other materials. Their findings were recently published by Nature.
"MAP gel technology speeds wound closure, and now we are finding reduced scar formation within the tissue," says Dr. Scumpia. "Who doesn't want wounds that heal quicker and result in less scar formation, in an easy-to-apply squeezable form that doesn't need to be sutured or stapled on?"
A future of healed wounds
As Dr. Scumpia and his fellow researchers continue to test the MAP gel, the group plans to seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the near future. Its potential uses are vast: The gel can treat a variety of physical issues, including acute surgical wounds, chronic venous and diabetic ulcers, inflammatory or blistering wounds, stomach ulcers and even joint and spinal cord scaffolds. It may even be used to release medications and stem cells into injuries in the process of treating them.
"We've developed a revolutionary product that combines leading-edge technology that is tunable to individual wounds," says Dr. Scumpia. "Our base invention can improve tissue regeneration and reduce scar formation. We can only improve upon that by adding more state-of-the-art science to it."
By Jessica Cerretani