December 11, 2023

It is a sad fact that burn patients often experience excruciating pain when the dressing is removed from their wound. However, a new hydrogel-based dressing could change that because it releases easily from the skin when it cools.

Scientists at the University of Waterloo in Canada are currently developing the soft, stretchy material. Among other things, it contains a heat-responsive polymer that expands when cooled and contracts when heated.

What’s more, based on 3D scans of burned body parts, hydrogel sheets can be 3D printed to match the exact contours of the area. This means that the dressing contacts all of the injured tissue without putting too much pressure on any one spot. As an added bonus, the material can be preloaded with medication, which is then gradually released into the wound.

When a sheet of hydrogel is initially applied to a burn, it is heated by the patient’s body. This shrinks it slightly so it fits firmly against the skin. It then stays in place for as long as needed, keeping it at the patient’s body temperature.

Items such as cool washcloths can be placed over the outer surface of the dressing when the wound needs to be inspected. As the hydrogel cools and expands, it releases its grip on the skin and scar tissue, so it comes off easily with little to no discomfort. Importantly, the material only needs to be cooled to room temperature — burn victims are often very sensitive to lower temperatures.

“Currently, the frequency of dressing changes is limited by the pain patients experience during removal,” study co-author Lukas Bauman told us. “By using materials that detach easily at room temperature, the frequency can be increased while significantly reducing pain.”

The technology could also conceivably be used to deliver chemotherapy drugs to cancer patients outside of clinical settings, or to produce custom peeling masks for use in the beauty and cosmetics industry.

A paper on the research led by Dr. Boxin Zhao was recently published in Journal of Colloid and Interface Science.

source: University of Waterloo