Although burn injuries are prevalent across the world and account for over 250,000 deaths per year, their unique physiology prevents the use of conventional wound dressings for their treatment. UNAM researchers, however, have developed a promising new material for this purpose. A recent study by Dr. Ayşe Begüm Tekinay’s Nanobiotechnology Research Group shows that heparin-mimetic hydrogel scaffolds are effective for the regeneration of third-degree burns, even outperforming a commercial wound dressing.
Burn wounds are distinguished from lacerations and impact injuries through the presence of wound progression, a gradual process by which the anoxic, fluid-poor environment of the burn epicenter triggers the death of otherwise healthy tissues at the periphery. In addition to halting the development of post-injury tissue necrosis, the heparin-mimetic hydrogel was able to accelerate wound closure and enhance the formation of new blood vessels at the site of injury, thereby facilitating the transport of much-needed oxygen and nutrients to the regenerating tissue. Furthermore, the gel also ensured minimal scar formation by stimulating the development of hair follicles and deposition of a well-crosslinked collagen matrix, which are major hallmarks of healthy skin.
Despite these promising results, Fatih Yergöz, the lead author of the study, believes that further testing is vital for the potential translation of heparin-mimetic hydrogels into clinical settings. Although severe in intensity, the burns inflicted in the study did not cover a large enough area to constitute a life-threatening injury, and wound healing is different enough between mice and men to necessitate additional research. Nevertheless, the group is confident that the peptide hydrogel shows considerable potential for the repair of third-degree burn injuries over smaller surface areas, especially those that do not necessiate autograft treatment.
The team’s research has been published in the journal Biomaterials, under the title “Heparin Mimetic Peptide Nanofiber Gel Promotes Regeneration of Full Thickness Burn Injury.” It can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biomaterials.2017.04.040.