Ultrasound could reduce chronic wound healing times by up to a third

Healing times for chronic wounds could be reduced by up to a third with a new technique discovered by UK researchers 
More than 200,000 people in the UK suffer with chronic wounds every year, at a cost of over £3.1billion to the NHS. 3 million diabetics, 11 million over-65s and 10 million smokers are all more likely to suffer problems and increased healing times with wounds. ¼ of diabetics suffer from skin ulcers, particularly affecting the feet, due to loss of sensation and circulation.

Scientists from the Universities of Sheffield and Bristol have found that the application of low-intensity ultrasound can assist and accelerate the normal healing process, reducing the time it takes for the wound to heal and reducing the risk of wounds becoming infected.

In healthy skin, fibronectin activates Rac1 in fibroblasts, causing migration into the wound bed. These fibroblasts produce the ground substances for granulation tissue, as well as collagen, and assemble these collagen molecules into fibres to facilitate new tissue genesis.

In those suffering with chronic wounds or with healing deficiencies, this reaction to wounding is diminished or absent.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Biomedical Science discovered that mechanical stimulation of the skin with low-intensity ultrasound can help to overturn healing defects by activating an alternative pathway which substitutes for fibronectin-dependant signalling and encourages the migration of fibroblasts into the wound bed.

Tests performed on aged and diabetic mice showed effective recruitment of fibroblasts to the wound bed and reduced healing times of up to 30%, restoring the healing rates of the mice to those observed in young, healthy animals.

The study was carried out in collaboration with the School of Biochemistry at the University of Bristol, the Wound Biology Group at the Cardiff Institute of Tissue Engineering and Repair, and the orthopaedic company Bioventus LLC, and is published in The Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

Lead author of the study, Dr Mark Bass, from the University’s Centre for Membrane Interactions and Dynamics (CMIAD), said: “skin ulcers are excruciatingly painful for patients and in many cases can only be resolved by amputation of the limb.


“Using ultrasound wakes up the cells and stimulates a normal healing process. Because it is just speeding up the normal processes, the treatment doesn’t carry the risk of side effects that are often associated with drug treatments.”

Dr Bass added that, having proven the effectiveness of ultrasound, he now wishes to explore the signal further, refining the treatment and exploring other ultrasound signals. He suggests that “because ultrasound is relatively risk free we could expect to see it in broad clinical use within three or four years”.

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