Hydrogel wound dressing uses immune system proteins to kill bacteria

It’s no secret that the more we use antibiotics, the greater the chances that bacteria will develop a resistance to them. A new antibacterial wound dressing is designed to get around that problem, by using proteins instead of conventional antibiotics.

The experimental hydrogel skin patch is being developed at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology, by a team led by Prof. Martin Andersson.

It contains antimicrobial peptides, which are proteins that occur naturally in our immune system. Because their destructive effect on bacteria is limited to compromising the microbes’ protective outer membrane, the scientists believe that bacteria are unlikely to develop a resistance to the peptides. What’s more, lab tests have shown the gel to be highly effective at killing harmful bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant varieties.

Although previous studies have also investigated utilizing the proteins to kill bacteria, their success has been limited due to the fact that the peptides break down fairly quickly after coming into contact with bodily fluids such as blood. The nanostructured hydrogel addresses this issue by providing a protective environment for the peptides, keeping them intact until they’re delivered directly to the wound site.

“The material is very promising,” says doctoral student Edvin Blomstrand. “It is harmless to the body’s own cells and gentle on the skin. In our measurements, the protective effect of the hydrogel on the antimicrobial peptides is clear – the peptides degrade much slower when they are bound to it.”

The hydrogel is now being commercialized by Chalmers spinoff company Amferia. It may ultimately be available not only as a skin patch, but also as a spray-on wound dressing. When and if it does reach the market, it may face some competition from a peptide-enhanced dressing being developed at Switzerland’s Empa research institute.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.

Source: Chalmers University of Technology

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