Researchers in the University of Sheffield’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering have developed a cotton-based dressing featuring a crucial new element: a chemical agent that promotes the formation of new blood vessels. 

The development of new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis, is a vital stage in the healing process, but one that is often impaired in chronic wounds like burns and diabetic ulcers. 

Of the 422 million diabetic patients around the world, some 15% will develop diabetic ulcers on their feet or lower legs.

“Chronic wounds can be a huge problem for people with diabetes”, commented Professor Sheila MacNeil, a lead researcher on the project. “Once they develop, they can be difficult to treat, even more so for people in developing countries who can’t afford to access advanced healthcare”. 

In developing countries such as Pakistan, advanced wound care dressings are inaccessible to both doctors and patients due to their price. Patients with diabetes, as well as burn injury patients, are more likely to develop sepsis, suffer from severe scarring, or even have to undergo amputation as a result. 

Through dedicated work in collaboration with researchers in Pakistan, Professor MacNeil has provided an answer. The dressings produced by this team are more affordable and more accessible than any of the methods that Pakistan currently uses to treat chronic wounds.

The key to the team’s success is loading the dressings with a chemical agent: the catchily-named 2-deoxy-D-ribose (2dDR). This small sugar stimulates angiogenesis, resulting in significant increases in the number of new blood vessels formed. This means that the dressings don’t just protect the wound from external infection, they also actively encourage healing. 

Two new dressing designs have developed: non-woven cotton for diabetic ulcers, and cotton wax for burns. 

“The non-woven cotton fibres [are] ideal for treating chronic wounds and ulcer wounds because of their good absorption capacity”, explains Professor MacNeil. “The cotton wax dressing would be more appropriate for treating burn wounds because of its adhesive properties”. 

The dressings are currently still in the testing phase of development but, in the future, they could make a life-changing difference to thousands of patients in developing countries. 

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