Wound Dressing Project To Revolutionise Healing

wound dressing project

The Wound Dressing Project by researchers at the University of Stellenbosch Microbiology Department, in conjunction with Cipla Medpro, a JSE listed South African pharmaceutical company, announced the development of a revolutionary wound dressing.

Innovative New Wound Dressing

Researchers at Stellenbosch University, led by Professor Leon Dicks, developed the new wound dressing that incorporates broad-spectrum antimicrobial peptides, which is an antibacterial protein, into nanofibres to fight infections that are commonly associated with burn wound patients.

Professor Dicks explains that, “[w]hen people sustain burn wounds their skin is damaged in such a way that the protective layer on their skin is often removed. This exposes their underlying skin, which then makes them very prone to secondary infections.” An estimated 1 in 100 burn wound patients die from secondary microbial infections.

Wound Care Combos

The new wound dressing, unlike conventional plasters, only needs to be changed once a week and releases the antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) in a slow and controlled manner to fight microbial infections. The nanofibre (tiny spider web-like fibres) material is produced using an electrospinning technique. According to Dicks, two types of dressings are being developed, one incorporates the broad-spectrum AMPs and the other viable bacteria cells. “In both cases the active ingredient is securely entrapped in the nanofibres and slowly released from the dressing,” Professor Dicks explains. This speeds up the healing process and reduces pain associated with frequent dressing and bandage changes.

The dressing consists of two layers, “[t]he biodegradable dressing forms part of the skin, while the non-biodegradable dressing is designed to be replaced, just as normal dressings are done,” says Professor Dicks. He explains that, “[b]y altering the nanoparticles, the dressing becomes part of the new skin and supports the healing process.” In addition, Dicks says the wound remains sterile and does not develop secondary infections often associated with burn wounds that result from pathogens.

The Origins

For most people in the food industry, lactic acid bacteria are organisms used in the fermentation process, but these bacteria have so much more to offer the brave new world. Professor Leon Dicks of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Stellenbosch, says, the breakthrough stems from studying innovative ways to use AMPs produced by lactic acid bacteria which is a culmination of research started in the 1990s. Although antimicrobial and preservative properties of lactic acid bacteria are well documented, the innovative antimicrobial and a vastly improved probiotic are just two examples of how they have been utilised.

The Wound Dressing Project is subsequent to the initial research which identified and patented unique probiotic strains which produced the AMPs. These strains and their peptides form the basis for an innovative probiotic product used to treat gastro-intestinal disorders, called Entiro™, soon to be marketed by pharmaceutical company Cipla Medpro.

Dicks and his team screened close to 600 strains to discover the unique AMPs produced by lactic acid bacteria that have antimicrobial properties. They discovered two strains that produce broad-spectrum AMPs that are highly effective against pathogens, which are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. When tested against the best-known antibiotics the results were as good and in some cases better. Unlike traditional antibiotics that try to disable replication, damage cell walls or interfere with protein generation, an AMP work like a bullet that shoots a large hole in the pathogens cell wall which makes recovery impossible.

Critical Acclaim

The team behind the Wound Dressing Project, led by Professor Leon Dicks at the University Of Stellenbosch Department Of Microbiology, recently received the prestigious National Science and Technology Forum – BHP Billiton Award nomination in the category of Outstanding Contribution to science, engineering, technology and innovation (SETI) through Research leading to Innovation. Although they did not win, Professor Leon MT Dicks received the TW Kambule Award, sponsored by the National Research Foundation (NRF), in the category of Individual for an outstanding contribution to SETI through Research and its Outputs over the last 5 to 10 years.

The Future

Already patented by Cipla Medpro both locally and abroad for commercial use, availability will depend on how soon production can start through a third party. However, tests and trials still need to be concluded, and is expected to be completed by mid-2013. In addition, the research is examining other drugs and the next step is to incorporate anti-inflammatory and tissue repair drugs into the dressing.

According to Dr Nic De Jongh, Cipla Medpro’s Medical Director, the Wound Dressing Project is indicative of the type of innovation and advances that can be achieved through private sector and research institution collaboration in South Africa. Believing that the funding and support by Cipla Medpro was vital in the success of the project, Dicks says, “[t]his product shows that we are doing exceptionally well with what we have, but with increased funding, we can do even better.” Dicks predicts that antimicrobial research will intensify and believes, “[t]hese investigations will not just focus on strategies to cure victims of bacterial infections, but also strongly on ways to prevent bacterial infection.”