Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have developed a microfluidic system to test the effects of electrical stimulation in wound healing. The researchers hope that their experiments might lead to new medical devices that can assist with chronic wounds. Their microfluidic chip contains artificial skin that contains a layer of cells which the researchers can ‘wound’ and then apply an electrical charge to. So far, they have shown that stimulating the wound with electricity allowed it to heal three times faster than a non-stimulated control wound. The team hopes to develop the approach further to create a wound healing technology for patients with chronic wounds.
Chronic wounds are a huge burden for those who experience them, with ongoing pain and discomfort, increased risk of infection, and even amputation if things get worse. Wound healing is impaired in various conditions, including in the immune suppressed and in patients with diabetes. Creating new technologies that can help these patients to achieve wound healing would go a long way to alleviate this burden.
“Chronic wounds are a huge societal problem that we don’t hear a lot about,” said Maria Asplund, a researcher involved in the study. “Our discovery of a method that may heal wounds up to three times faster can be a game changer for diabetic and elderly people, among others, who often suffer greatly from wounds that won’t heal,”
The technology is based on the concept of electrotactic skin cells, whereby skin cells in a Petri dish will migrate in the same direction under the influence of electricity, compared with their random movements when a current is not applied. Applying an electrical field to a wound could help the cells to draw together, speeding up the healing process.
So far, the research is very promising, with electricity leading to healing rates that are three times as fast as controls when the researchers tested the process in a custom microfluidic platform. “We were able to show that the old hypothesis about electric stimulation can be used to make wounds heal significantly faster,” said Asplund. “In order to study exactly how this works for wounds, we developed a kind of biochip on which we cultured skin cells, which we then made tiny wounds in. Then we stimulated one wound with an electric field, which clearly led to it healing three times as fast as the wound that healed without electric stimulation.”
Study in journal Lab on a Chip: Bioelectronic microfluidic wound healing: a platform for investigating direct current stimulation of injured cell collectives