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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.
Why is this research important: In the early days of the study of electricity, scientists discovered that cutting or pricking the skin would produce an electrical current – the body contained electricity. We now know that this ‘bioelectricity’ is the result of charged particles called ions flooding in and out of damaged cells. It turns out that this wound current serves as an important signal to initiate the healing process. The electrical field it generates attracts various cell types to the site of injury and encourages the laying down of connective tissue.
Unfortunately, wounds do not always heal properly or even at all. Wound healing becomes less effective with increasing age, partly because the aforementioned electrical current becomes weaker. Age related diseases like diabetes also result in slower wound healing. We have traditionally tried to resolve these wounds with drugs, but new technologies may allow us to apply electrical currents that will speed up the process.
What did the researchers do: In this study, researchers created a compact device to study the effects of electrical currents on human skin tissue models. These models were composed of either normal or diabetic-like keratinocytes, a type of cell that represents 90% of cells in the outer layer of the skin. Diabetic keratinocytes fail to produce the necessary growth factors for wound healing.
Key takeaway(s) from this research: The researchers found that applying a uni-directional electric field (essentially placing a negative charge at one wound edge and a positive charge at the opposite edge) was the most effective configuration. Both normal and diabetes-like models with this configuration healed about three times faster than their respective controls.
It should be noted that the skin tissue models were cultured cells, not real skin tissue, so this study is still quite far removed from real human wounds. Nevertheless, this line of research holds a lot of potential and deserves more attention than it has received. The electrodes used are small and non-metal, and could easily be worn and incorporated into plasters and so on.
Title image by wavebreakmedia on Freepik
Bioelectronic microfluidic wound healing: a platform for investigating direct current stimulation of injured cell collectives https://doi.org/10.1039/d2lc01045c