UW-Madison researchers working to enhance post-surgery healing

UW-Madison researchers are working on a method for enhancing the healing process after surgeries.

The method coats stitches with a special material.

Bill Murphy, a professor of biomedical engineering at UW-Madison, started working on this idea nearly a decade ago. The idea of using stitches as a vehicle to deliver drugs at sites of tissue damage can be applied in many medical settings, he says, but shows the most promise for musculoskeletal damage.

When surgeons use regular stitches — otherwise known as sutures — to close up a wound or surgical cut, the body reacts by quickly forming scars.

“That can be OK in some cases, but it doesn’t recreate the function or structure of natural tissue,” Murphy told WisBusiness.com. “Patients can lose some function in that area because of scarring.”

To avoid that, Murphy and his research team coat sutures with a special biodegradable, porous material. This allows them to act like sponges, soaking up specialized proteins that can induce healthy tissue growth and fight bacterial infections.

Since the suture coating is biodegradable, it breaks down slowly after introduction into the subject’s body, releasing those beneficial proteins over time. And placing the fragile proteins in the coating actually increases their stability, Murphy says.

He said the patent for this process was filed about 8 years ago, and WARF is currently seeking commercial licensing partners. He also listed “a number of potential applications” for this coating method.

One big potential market he identified is the field of rotator cuff repair. When this type of shoulder tendon injury happens and is treated with techniques involving normal sutures, “a lot of scar formation” leads to lingering pain and limited range of motion.

In large animal models like sheep, Murphy says the coated sutures have been found to significantly promote overall healing in the rotator cuff. These kinds of larger animals are useful for determining how treatments will play out in a human being, while smaller models like rabbits are more helpful for specifically studying tendon repair, he said.

He’s also starting to explore the possibility of using this idea for fixing an injury that can plague people for years — a torn meniscus, which leads to the more commonly known “trick knee.”

If tests are successful, Murphy says, applying coated sutures to this type of knee injury could lead to more widespread treatment options.

–By Alex Moe