UW School of Medicine and Public Health: Bandage that uses body’s own energy speeds wound healing

Contact: Emily Kumlien

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MADISON, Wis., ‒ UW‒Madison researchers have developed a bandage that uses the body’s own electrical energy to speed wound healing.

The futuristic bandage, developed by Xudong Wang, professor of materials science and engineering at UW–Madison, and researched on human skin by Dr. Angela GibsonDr. Angela Gibson, assistant professor of surgery at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and a burn and acute care surgeon at UW Health, was shown to heal a wound more than four times faster than a traditional dressing. The novel bandage uses the body’s natural movement to generate an electric field.

About three years ago, researchers in surgery and engineering at UW–Madison first created and tested the bandage, finding that it significantly accelerated wound healing in rats. In September 2021, they published the results of their latest study in the Journal of Nanobiotechnology.

The results from the original research were encouraging, but more testing was needed to learn whether the bandage would work on human skin, Gibson said.

“When we tested it on wounded human skin that we’d grafted onto a mouse, the wound healed completely in seven days compared to the typical 30 days using a standard dressing,” she said.

The bandage works by using a tiny generator, called a nanogenerator, to capture energy from natural movements like breathing and twitching. The nanogenerator converts that energy into mild electric pulses that are sent to an electrode in the bandage, which then creates an electric field around the wound.

Researchers have known that electric fields help wounds heal faster. In fact, the body creates its own mild electric field around a wound. Although the exact mechanism is not fully understood, this study adds to evidence that electric fields help direct the movement of skin cells for more efficient healing.

Wang, who helped lead the research in 2018 to create the bandage, and his colleagues, have made improvements to the bandage since then to decrease the size and increase the practicality of the device without negatively impacting the test animals in any way, he said.

“We made improvements in the bandage between our original study and this one by incorporating the nanogenerator into the bandage itself, and by weaving the material to better mimic the way skin stretches so it could capture more of the energy from subtle body movements,” Wang said. “We’re very excited about the results in human skin.”

Because the bandages are made of relatively inexpensive materials and are not complicated to make, the researchers expect they wouldn’t cost much more to manufacture than a regular bandage.

The team’s next steps include improving the nanogenerator and bandage design further to harness energy at various sites on human bodies, according to Gibson. 

They hope to move to clinical trials in the next few years after testing on large animals for safety and effectiveness, she said.

“Given the device’s simplicity and its expected low cost, we’re really hopeful that this technology will lead to significant improvements in treatment for the millions of people who suffer from wounds every year,” Gibson said.

Gibson and Wang are available for interviews today, and a recorded interview with Gibson is available.