Natural patches from CEITEC help heal burns without scars
Thanks to modern medicine, patients with severe burns have a great chance of survival and a successful return to normal life. However, there is the major issue of stiff and unsightly scars, which may be cosmetically or functionally unfavourable and thus reduce the quality of life after suffering burns. This could be put to an end thanks to special patches developed by scientists from CEITEC BUT. The material is made almost entirely from plants and has the potential to create an ideal environment to support own regeneration processes of the dermis. It can also prevent dangerous infections at a lower cost than currently available solutions.
Katarína Kacvinská, who is involved in the development of this unique material, learned about the topic only after years of her studies: “I studied at the Faculty of Chemistry at BUT and I first encountered tissue engineering in Portugal on an Erasmus stay and I liked it. After returning to Brno, I heard about Lucy Vojtová and her research, so, as part of my master’s thesis, I started to look into skin tissue replacement after burns.” Kacvinská found her thesis very challenging and after successfully completing it, she decided not to continue to doctoral studies. However, she started miss the research and today she is a doctoral student at CEITEC BUT. She even succeeded with her research in the Brno Ph.D. talent competition last year.
She works in the labs to develop a two-layer covering for deep wounds, a kind of patch that can provide the body’s cells with ideal conditions for healing and creating new skin. “Based on the information available to me, I established that the biggest problem for the body when recovering from burns was inflammation and lack of moisture in the area being treated. Cells need a clean environment to work. I needed a layer that was covering, kept moisture on the wound and was antibacterial. But at the same time, oxygen has to come to the wound through that layer,” the student sums up part of her goals. Therefore, she created two materials with different characteristics. “The bottom layer is made of collagen, which can absorb and support the regeneration of the missing dermis. The top layer is made of a special antibacterial hydrogel, which moistens the wound, does not allow dirt through and cleans the wound. As the skin would grow, only the top layer would have to be changed once in a while.”
In the current treatment of burns, when the wound is redressed, sometimes the already grown skin tissue can be torn off and the healing process slowed down. We are not talking just about light superficial burns. “If you burn your skin only slightly, the thin epidermis layer is damaged, which can heal itself over time. Once the injury goes deep, that is, into the dermis layer, the body reacts by tightening the skin over the wound, but because the deeper part of the skin is missing, a scar is formed. Our goal is to be able to let the deeper layers of the skin grow back and prevent scarring,” explains Lucy Vojtová, who has long been working on advanced biomaterials for medicine at CEITEC.
It is the bottom layer of this patch that is supposed to help the deeper layers grow back. Its material is a “scaffolding” for the cells, which they use to complete the missing tissue. If the cells detect intact skin in the vicinity, they automatically start to form it from the provided absorbable material. The top material, based on a hydrogel similar to blister plasters, is replaced during the healing process and peeled off after the wound is healed. Moreover, it does not visually disturbing, because when used as a thin layer, it has the same colour and texture as human skin.
Experts work almost exclusively with natural materials, which, according to Lucy Vojtová, are not by default better than synthetically produced ones, but have a number of undeniable advantages: “These are most often substances derived from plants. Natural materials often have inherent antibacterial properties, but we always have to add these abilities to man-made materials. Some plants do not get mould, some can heal themselves very well. Natural materials are renewable, so if we need large quantities, it is relatively cheap. This is very important for the end price, so that people can afford them and they make life better for patients.”
Scientists from CEITEC BUT are working on the development of unique patches together with doctors from the Burn Centre of the Brno University Hospital.