Easing the Pain

in BME Spotlight Faculty, BME Spotlight-Research, ENG Spotlight Faculty, ENG Spotlight-Research, MSE Spotlight Faculty, MSE Spotlight Research, NEWS, Spotlight Research

Grinstaff Develops Breakthrough Hydrogel Burn Dressing

By Sara Cody

Grinstaff Hydrogel Burn
The novel hydrogel can conform to the burn wound, accomodate movement and be dissolved on demand with an aqueous solution. Image provided by Grinstaff Lab

The searing pain associated with burn injuries is due to the multitude of pain receptors and nerves that traverse the skin layers. Treatment of burn wounds often requires mechanical and surgical intervention that causes further pain and suffering to the patient.

A collaborative team of chemists and biomedical engineers from the Grinstaff lab at BU and doctors from the Nazarian lab at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center-Harvard Medical School have developed a novel hydrogel burn dressing that may ease burn patients’ pain.

“It is of significant importance to introduce an alternative to currently available dressings that possesses the capability to be dissolved on-demand, allowing for a more facile and less traumatic treatment process, especially for pediatric patients,” says Professor Mark Grinstaff (BME, MSE, Chemistry, Medicine). “Changing the dressing requires cutting away soiled dressing and mechanical debridement to keep the wound area clean, which further aggravates the sensitive wound area.”

The hydrogel dressing is composed of two polymer components: a dendron and a crosslinker, polymers that bind together, when mixed, to form the hydrogel. The composition of the hydrogel allows it to conform to irregular shapes of a wound and its mechanical characteristics accommodates movement, all the while protecting against bacterial infection. It also absorbs wound fluid and maintains a high level of humidity at the wound site to encourage wound healing. Importantly, the dendritic hydrogel burn dressing can be dissolved on demand with an aqueous solution.

Each year more than 300,000 people die from fire-related burn injuries and millions suffer from burn-related disabilities. The treatment of burn wounds is an extensive and painful process that typically involves numerous dressing changes, often on a daily basis. For example, burn specialists estimate that it takes three people 138 minutes to dress a burn that covers 10-30 percent of the body, 105 minutes to dress a facial burn and 66 minutes to change a hand dressing. None of the currently used dressings can be removed painlessly or on-demand.

“Our goal is to have this medical device in the clinic in two years, where we will focus on tailoring the on-demand dissolution of the hydrogel that would allow for potentially painless burn dressing change, which would be a breakthrough in second-degree burn wound care,” says Grinstaff. “The next steps in the translation of this technology to the patient involve establishing good manufacturing practices of the medical device and pursuing safety studies.”

The research, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Coulter Foundation at BU, is described in Angewandte Chemie International Edition and labeled as a “Hot Paper” by the journal (DOI: 10.1002/anie.201308007).