Medical Technology

Electrically Powered Bandages



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Since before the time of Hippocrates, some form of bandage has been used to help wounds heal. This low-tech tool has remained pretty much the same for centuries. And why not? If a bandage or dressing works to keep germs away from a wound or burn, it serves an extremely worthwhile purpose.




Recently, however, the lowly bandage has gone high tech. The healing power of electricity is now being used in bandages and the practice of medicine will never be the same again.




This innovation actually started in the mid-1880's when a German physiologist, Emil Du Bois-Reymond cut his arm and then measured the electrical field across this wound. His experiments laid the foundation for all future work in electrophysiology. Some of this research led to such medical advances as electrocardiograms. Because of these activities, we have a better understanding of the electric activities of the nerves in our bodies and how they are the basis of how we see, feel and hear, along with how we control muscle contraction so that we can move.




In 2006, these early studies in electrophysiology were enhanced by anther group of researchers. This new study helped to explain how wounds and burns are healed by electricity. The two researchers, Min Zhao and Colin McCaig from Aberdeen University presented their findings in "Nature" magazine.




The results of this research are dramatically changing the way that bandages are used in the healing process. The research team discovered two proteins and genes within cells which play a key role in steering cells to heal wounds in response to the naturally occurring electrical signals found in wounds.




The researchers also found that when they applied an electrical field to a wound, this altered the way that cells, attempting to repair the damage, moved around. Varying the voltage of the electric fields also made a difference which affected the speed in which the wound healed.




By using sheet of human skin in dishes, Zhao and McCaig showed that electricity flowed from the edges of a wound as soon as the incision was made. The current was triggered by positively charged sodium ions which are flowing through the tissue in one direction and an opposing rush of negatively charged chloride ions. Together they created a voltage across the wound about 15 times weaker than a standard AA battery.




The electrical charge is relatively slow moving. It moves at about 50 micrometers an hour, which is about one millimeter a day. However, strategic use of an electrical charge can speed this movement along, overriding what would normally occur with the cells.




As fascinating as this research was, it was still pretty much an academic exercise until a small company decided to jump-start the process. Vomaris Innovations, based in Chandler, Arizona recently introduced the first commercially viable bandage that uses electricity to heal wounds and burns.




The brand name for the product is "Posit" adhesive bandages. This bandage uses microscopic batteries mounted on flexible membrane to pass a tiny amount of current - 1.2 volts - over the affected skin. As a testament to its efficacy in clinical trials, the FDA recently approved the product for use in hospitals.




In a brief story in the February 2009 edition of "Fortune Small Business" magazine, there was a testimonial from Dr. James McCoy, professor of surgery at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. Using the Prosit bandage, McCoy saved one patient from a potential amputation and healed another's severe burn.




The founder of the company that brought this electrical bandage to market, Jeff Skiba, noted that he developed the product in his garage over several years. The product is now being used in Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic. Not too shabby for a product that started on a garage workbench!




This high-tech bandage speeds healing by about 50%, but that's not its only advantage. Hospitals estimate that standard wound dressings cost an average of $1,000 per wound per patient. The Posit bandage cost the hospital an average of $140 per patient.




Vomaris now has eight employees and sales of less than $500,000, but that is likely to change in the very near future. The company has asked the FDA for approval for an over-the-counter version of Prosit to be available later this year.




The medical technology market is due for a little jolt. So, don't be shocked if electrically powered bandages are the next big thing.

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