Scientists in Singapore have developed a new material that could speed up wound healing, minimize scar formation, and strengthen the wound itself. In addition, the new material could be applied in several different forms, including a gel patch, sponge, filler, paste, hydrogel, and injection. The results of their research were published in Scientific Reports.
No preventive treatments currently exist for managing scars due to wounds, so if this new material is validated in further trials, it could be a major improvement for treating patients with surgical wounds as well as those with diabetes who suffer from slow-healing wounds.
For this study, researchers at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) investigated angiopoietin-like 4 (ANGPTL4), a matricellular protein. During wound healing and scarring, matricellular proteins orchestrate cellular events. Current scar treatments, however, have bypassed the use of these proteins, researchers noted.
Other recent research on ANGPTL4 investigated knockout mice without the protein. Wounds in these mice showed delayed healing, increased inflammation, and impaired wound-related angiogenesis. Thus, to improve wound healing without the negative effects of scarring, researchers studied the use of ANGPTL4.
“To reduce scars, all we had to do was to find a ‘tuning knob’ that controls the amount of collagen produced, instead of turning it off completely, which is what typical anti-scarring medicine does and which could interfere with the healing process,” said corresponding author Andrew Tan, PhD, associate professor, NTU’s School of Biological Sciences.
Dr. Tan and colleagues found that ANGPTL4 manipulated the ‘tuning knob’ process of scar-associated collagen production. When they applied ANGPTL4 to inflamed wounds of diabetic mice, the wounds healed faster, with reduced collagen synthesis and improved biomechanical properties of the healed skin, compared to control mice whose wounds were treated with saline.
Also, the collagen architecture of ANGPTL4-treated wounds had a random “basket-weave pattern” akin to scar-free wounds in embryos, while saline-treated wounds had the orderly parallel fibers typical of scar-forming wounds in adults.
An added advantage of ANGPTL4 is that it’s easily obtained—it can be harvested from discarded human fatty tissue.
“The easy extraction of ANGPTL4 also could mean that, in future, a surgeon can use the patient’s fat and turn it into a healing agent on the spot, to promote faster recovery of the patient’s wounds after an operation,” explained Cleo Choong, MBA, PhD, MEng, assistant professor, NTU’s School of Materials Science and Engineering.
“In addition, we have developed ways to package ANGPTL4 into easy-to-use formulations such as gel patches, topical creams, and injectable microcapsules,” Dr. Choong said. “This will make it easy for doctors and even patients to use in future, should the product be made available to the market.”
NTU currently has a patent on the use of ANGPTL4 in wound healing. Other studies using ANGPTL4 protein extracted from placenta and adipose tissue are already underway.