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Wednesday, 5 January, 2000, 18:56 GMT
Hi-tech dressing may 'eradicate scars'

Burn victim Technology may help burns victims

Scientists have developed a hi-tech medical dressing they say leaves no scar when the wound is healed.

The dressing is sprayed onto the skin and lets wounds heal by encouraging the formation of strong skin rather than weaker scar tissue.

It is made up of a mat of polymer fibres.

When skin is punctured, the damage often destroys the weave-like structure of collagen that gives skin its strength.

The body is able to repair the damage, but not by rebuilding the complex collagen fibres in their original form.

Instead, the body opts for a quick fix by producing thin strips of collagen.

When skin cells grow on this they produce pale, less flexible material known as scar tissue, rather than normal skin.

New Scientist magazine reports the new spray, developed by biotechnology company Electrosols, produces a fine web of biodegradable polymer fibres that collagen-making cells called fibroblasts can grow on.

As more and more fibroblasts grow on the polymer webbing, they produce a regular collagen structure, much like that in normal skin.

Electrosols researcher Ron Coffee believes that controlling the formation of collagen in this way will lead to normal skin growth instead of scarring.

Electric charge

A lot of people have had bright and innovative ideas about wound healing, but they had found out that a lot of things do not work
Mark Ferguson, professor of cell and structural biology, Manchester University
To make the spray, Dr Coffee mixes ethanol and a biodegradable polymer - such as polylactic acid - in a small semiconducting container, and then gives it an electric charge by putting an electric field across the container.

Because the wound is at a far lower electrical potential than the polymer, the solution is attracted to the skin surface and flies out through tiny nozzles, producing fine, light fibres, each of them five micrometres in diameter.

The fibres have the same charge so they repel each other, making them regularly spaced.

Dr Coffee is developing a hand-held version of the spray to be used by paramedics or kept in first-aid kits.

However, Bruce Martin, a reconstructive surgeon at the University of Florida, is sceptical about the potential of the new spray.

He said: "This initial polymer fibre mat wouldn't necessarily have any bearing on the final scar. Collagen is organised and reorganised continuously, and that's governed by a whole range of things.

"This sounds very sexy, but I wouldn't put any great faith in it until I'd seen it work in animal and human trials."

Professor Mark Ferguson, an expert in wound healing from Manchester University, said the technique would potentially be very useful, but would need extensive clinical testing to prove its worth.

He said: "A lot of people have had bright and innovative ideas about wound healing, but they had found out that a lot of things do not work.

"Many people have tried to make scaffolds to encourage cells to invade wounds, but the problem has always been the process of inflammation that occurs during wound healing.

"When cells invade a wound, the scaffolding tends to dissolve at the same time, so there is no directed orientation."

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30 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
Burn scanners will save skin

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