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Navy scientists developing wound dressing to improve healing of battlefield injuries

By David DeKunder | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Dec. 20, 2018

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

In addressing complications that hinder the ability of wounded service members to recover from their injuries, researchers at Naval Medical Research Unit San Antonio, or NAMRU-SA, at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston are developing and testing a type of wound dressing that contributes to the healing process and improves patient outcomes.

NAMRU-SA scientists and researchers have been developing a wound dressing that could speed up the healing process, with the potential of reducing scar formation, in troops wounded on the battlefield.

Dr. Tony Yuan, NAMRU-SA senior scientist and biomedical engineer, is one of the researchers involved in the project to create and develop the wound dressing. He said the wound dressing is being developed through an electrospinning process to produce a nanofibrous dressing containing natural fibers, which participate in the wound healing process.

Yuan said electrospinning is a process that uses high-voltage electricity as a force to produce a nanofibrous scaffold from biomaterials, such as polymers that can be used to deliver biomolecules and drugs for various biomedical applications, including wound healing.

A polymer is a substance that has a molecular structure consisting of a large number of similar units bonded together, such as polyethylene oxide found in plastic bags.

The developed nanofibrous wound dressing is an artificial matrix designed to mimic the natural environment to enhance tissue and wound repair. Simultaneously, it was designed to release drugs and biomolecules that are essential to the wound healing process. One of those biomolecules that is delivered through the scaffold is platelet-derived growth factor, or PDGF.

Yuan said PDGF is a natural biomolecule that is a critical component in wound healing.

“PDGF drives the entire wound healing process,” he said. “Different type of cells are attracted by this molecule when it is released in the body. Our idea is to bring more cells to the wound site so it can heal faster.”

The nanofibrous scaffold was made by an electrospinner that was custom built by the NAMRU-SA biomedical engineering team.

The system enables researchers to create and tailor nanofibers for scaffolds to be used in various biomedical applications. The researchers are able to control the pattern, nanofiber size and composition as well as the structure of the scaffold during the electrospinning process. Using custom and unique designs, the electrospinner is able to create three-dimensional scaffolds that are analogous to cotton candy and cotton balls.

“The nanofibers allow you to load a substantial amount of biomolecules into them to be delivered to heal the wound,” Yuan said.

Lt. Cmdr. Nicholas Hamlin, NAMRU-SA principal investigator and department head of Environmental Surveillance in the Craniofacial Health and Restorative Medicine Directorate, said the nanofibrous scaffold will help reduce complications that come about in the healing process for service members wounded on the battlefield.

Those complications include an increased risk of infection and illness.

“The wound dressing and the delivered biomolecules promote the body’s own healing process,” Hamlin said. “It (nanofibrous scaffold) participates in the (healing) process. The faster the wound is closed, the lesser the risk of having an infection and potentially reducing complications for the patient.”

The development of this type of biomaterial-based nanofiber wound dressing could be critical in treating craniofacial wounds. Approximately 65 percent of injuries on the battlefield are related to head, face or neck trauma. Antibiotic-resistant infections to these type of wounds increase the instances of illnesses and death and direct costs of treatment by 30 to 100 percent.

The advancements made by NAMRU-SA in the wound dressings developed from nanofibrous scaffolds could improve the quality of life of many wounded service members, especially for long-term esthetic outcomes.

NAMRU-SA has conducted this research using electrospinning to create nanofibrous biomaterials in wound dressings to treat wounds since 2012. Future plans for this project will focus on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications, specifically to fully restore function of injured tissues. Included in the next phase of this research is the development of 3D printed scaffolds to recreate and mimic vascularized tissues.