Dec 18, 2011Science and Technology
New bandage grows blood vessels in precise patterns for faster healing

When you hurt yourself when you were a kid, chances are your parents put an adhesive bandage over the spot, whether you were bleeding or not. Chances are the trick worked, and the “injury” instantly felt better.


Even though they don’t actually do anything but protect wounds from outside infections, these simple bandages have provided comfort to a few generations of kids … especially if they were covered in drawings of the Ninja Turtles or Pokemon characters.


Now, though, a new generation of bandages may not only protect wounds, but also spur the healing process.


Increasing blood vessel growth in the wound is the key to speeding the pace of healing, as all doctors know. However, with most wounds, the blood vessels have been damaged, along with the skin.


Researchers at the University of Illinois have not only come up with a method of solving the problem of encouraging blood vessel growth, but they can also precisely control the location and pattern of those new vessels.


And it’s as simple as a bandage.


The new type of bandage spurs blood vessel growth in a pattern that matches what’s imprinted on the bandage. By controlling where the new vessels grow, doctors eventually could more closely control and improve the healing of a wound.


Hyunjoon Kong, a chemical and biomolecular engineering professor at Illinois, and Rashid Bashir, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Illinois, developed the bandage. It contains live cells that encourage vessel growth in the pattern.


The bandage contains a stamp that’s only about a half-inch square. Within the stamp are biomaterials that encourage the growth of the vessels. Obviously, with the stamp being so small, the vessels it creates are extremely small, too, and in some of the literature from the researchers, they’re called microvessels. Depending on the size of the wound, multiple bandages and stamps could be used to grow more vessels and create a wider healing area.


This isn’t the first time researchers have been able to demonstrate an ability to encourage blood vessel growth. However, the Illinois researchers have pushed the idea forward, thanks to their introduction of the ability to create a pattern of vessels, thereby directing the growth precisely.


Beyond healing of wounds, one of the most promising areas for this type of technology could be in spurring new blood vessel growth for patients who are dealing with blocked arteries. When used in this manner, the new vessels could be grown to go around the blockage. Those who have poor blood flow in certain areas of the body could have new microvessels grown precisely in the areas where they’re needed most. After surgeries, scar tissue could be minimized by treatment directing the growth of new vessels.


There’s also the possibility that microvessels could help with one of the most controversial aspects of medicine right now – organ transplants. With so many people waiting for organ donors and transplants, any technology that could lead to the growth of organs would completely change the way the transplant industry operates.


Other researchers have looked at the possibility of using technology similar to an inkjet printer to “print” layer upon layer of tissues, creating an organ. By printing the bandages and stamps required for blood vessel growth within the organs, the technology could make the host body’s circulatory system interact with the new organ more efficiently, which could reduce the possibility of organ rejection. With more organs available, more transplants would be possible, completely changing the medical industry.


With the right tweaks to the technology, perhaps it could translate to areas beyond the medical industry. Having the ability to control tissue growth could possibly aid in the development of plants used for crops or in animals, providing a better source of food.


It will be interesting to see whether this type of tissue growth is considered a form of genetic mutation, which would draw protests from consumers who are leery of these products. Or, by simply using technology to spur additional growth of vessels, perhaps it will be seen as a more natural type of growth. The way this type of technology is perceived could play a significant role in whether it’s accepted easily by society or shunned as some sort of unnatural scientific voodoo that will do more harm than good.


Creating viable products based on this research will still require several years of further research and development. However, it will be interesting to watch the evolution of such a potentially impactful medical technology.

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