(WECT) - Persistent pain and infections from chronic wounds can last for decades, and patients often find themselves at a dead end with amputation as their only option left.
New treatments provide a way out and ways to catch infection before it even happens - a bandage that uses electricity to jump-start healing.
"It looks like a regular bandage but it doesn't act like a regular bandage," said Dr. Scott Sheftel, associate professor of dermatology.
When the bandage is moistened it creates an electric current that stimulates healing.
"We're recreating the bio-electric potential that's there," said Sheftel.
"It's working," said patient Tom White. "It's tough, it's been a year, but it's working."
Other doctors are using a new bandage infused with a special type of honey. Patient Josh Pennington tried it three years after a rock gouged his leg.
"It killed bacteria with some of the enzymes it has within it," said Dr. Christopher Attinger with the Georgetown University Hospital.
Josh's wound shrunk 95 percent.
Another experimental bandage lets you know if your wound will get infected.
"It's measuring enzymes secreted by the bacteria that cause wound infections," said CEO Mitchell Sanders.
The band-aid turns blue if it picks up the signals of an impending infection, letting you know if the cut needs extra care.
Treating chronic wounds costs an estimated $5-10 billion each year. In clinical trials the electric bandage encouraged healing, relieved pain, and reduced risk of infection.
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BACKGROUND: Wound infections happen when bacteria enter a break in the skin. Since we already have large numbers of bacteria on our skin, a wound simply gives them a place to enter and reproduce. The rapid proliferation of bacteria prevents skin from healing. Open sores, large burns and bite wounds are more prone to infection than other types of wounds like cuts, tears and punctures (Source: Physicians' Desktop Reference). When infection persists, some wounds become chronic. Treating chronic wounds cost an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion each year, according to a recent JAMA article.
HEALING HONEY: The Medihoney bandage is made from a seaweed-based material full of manuka honey, a potent type of honey that is helpful in killing germs and speeding up the healing process. The dressing speeds up healing because bacteria find it hard to live and replicate within the honey due to honey's ability to suck up water and its high concentration of enzymes. Manuka honey can be found in Australia and New Zealand in the hives of certain bees that collect nectar from manuka. The Medihoney bandage was created in 2007 and has been shown to be effective in healing leg ulcers, second-degree burns, diabetic foot ulcers as well as wounds from diabetes, metastasis disease and cancer.
ELECTRICITY JUMP-STARTS HEALING: One recently developed device called the Procellera is a bioelectric wound dressing that uses radiofrequency energy to stimulate cells back to life. The bandage is useful on chronic injuries caused by surgical incisions or bruising. The electric bandage is activated when moistened. The moisture activates zinc and silver elements which generate a current that encourages healing. The bandage needs to be changed out every two or three days. "I personally have treated a couple hundred patients with the dressing, and I think for some patients it's life-changing," Scott Sheftel, M.D., an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, told Ivanhoe.
INFECTION-DETECTING BANDAGE: Another skin-healing tool still under investigation is a "band-aid" that turns blue if an infection is present in the wound it is in contact with. The band-aid works by detecting enzymes that are made by infection-causing pathogens. It can detect an impending infection in about 30 minutes. "The cool thing is, it's really inexpensive as well," Mitchell Sanders, Ph.D., CEO of ECI Biotech -- which developed the infection-detecting bandage -- told Ivanhoe.