It’s a sad fact that burn victims often feel a great deal of pain when the dressings on their wounds are removed. A new hydrogel-based dressing could change that, however, as it easily releases from the skin when cooled.
The soft, flexible material is currently being developed by scientists at Canada’s University of Waterloo. Among other things, it incorporates a thermally responsive polymer which expands when cooled and shrinks when heated.
What’s more, based on 3D scans of the burned body part, sheets of the hydrogel can be 3D-printed to match the exact contours of that area. This means that the dressing will make contact with all the injured tissue, yet without exerting too much pressure in any one place. And as an added bonus, the material can be preloaded with medication which it gradually releases into the wound.
When a sheet of the hydrogel is initially applied to a burn site, it gets heated by the patient’s body. This causes it to shrink slightly, so it securely clings to the skin. It then stays in place as long as is needed, remaining at the patient’s body temperature.
When it’s time to check the wound, an item such as a cool towel is applied to the outside surface of the dressing. As the hydrogel cools and expands, it releases its grip on the skin and scar tissue, so that it easily falls away with little if any discomfort. Importantly, the material only has to be cooled to room temperature – burn victims are typically very sensitive to colder temperatures.
“Currently, the frequency of dressing changes is limited by the pain experienced by the patient during removal,” study co-author Lukas Bauman told us. “By using a material that easily detaches at room temperature, the frequency can be increased while pain is significantly reduced.”
The technology could conceivably also be utilized to deliver chemotherapy drugs to cancer patients outside of a clinical setting, or to produce custom rejuvenating facial masks for use in the beauty and cosmetics industry.
A paper on the research, which is being led by Dr. Boxin Zhao, was recently published in the Journal of Colloids and Interfacial Science.