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The great coverup

Surgeon, textile scientist team up at U of M to develop breakthrough bandage that won't stick to wounds, and fights off superbugs

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Two Winnipeg researchers are developing a unique type of bandage they say won't stick to burn wounds and could diminish patients' risk for so-called superbugs.

Dr. Sarvesh Logsetty, a plastic surgeon who heads the Manitoba Fire Fighters Burn Unit at the Health Sciences Centre, and Song Liu, a University of Manitoba textile scientist, have received a $384,000 grant from the federal government's Collaborative Health Research Projects program to work on their invention.

If successful, they say it would be a breakthrough, not only for burn survivors, but also for anyone else with serious wounds -- including people with diabetes who suffer from slow-to-heal foot ulcers that can lead to limb amputation.

Logsetty, who operates on and treats burn survivors, says his foray into this research was born out of frustration over conventional bandages, most of which stick to burns.

He says one of the most difficult aspects of living with a severe burn is the pain that goes along with dressing removal. He likens burn dressings to Band-Aids.

"Some days the Band-Aid falls off really easily and you can't get it to stick no matter what you do. And other days, the Band-Aid sticks so hard you have to almost peel your skin off with the Band-Aid to get it off," says Logsetty, who was plucked from Edmonton in 2007 to head the state-of-the-art Sherbrook Street burn unit.

He explains that bandage stickiness happens when a scab leaks yellow, tacky fluid -- mostly plasma, part of the natural healing process.

He says he's often the one to change his patients' bandages.

"I see these individuals suffering. I see the pain they are going through. I see how the dressings stick and the kind of trauma that the people go through."

He says difficult dressing removal uses up valuable nursing resources, creates intense pain for the patients and leaves patients at risk for infection, although everyone in his clinic who changes dressings must wear a mask and gloves.

Logsetty and Liu are working with bandage maker Smith and Nephew, the company that makes Acticoat, a dressing used at the HSC burn unit. Logsetty is quick to admit that all dressings -- even the brand he currently uses in his clinic and whose makers he is partnering with in his research -- have their shortcomings.

"I would be hesitant to say there are a lot of really good dressings around."

Logsetty first got the idea of teaming up with U of M researcher Liu after reading about his work on the web a couple of years ago. Both are U of M professors.

Liu had already been working on antimicrobial polymers -- textiles that inhibit germs.

Logsetty contacted Liu and the two chatted over coffee. Now the pair meet a couple of times a week to bounce ideas off each other, with Liu handling the majority of the research in his lab.

Logsetty hopes in three years they will get the go-ahead to proceed with clinical trials so he can test the product on his patients.

Eventually, they hope the product will be available commercially.

Liu says it's rare for a busy practising surgeon to get involved with such a project.

"(Logsetty is) an exceptionally good surgeon who finds time for clinical research. It's amazing," says Liu. "Sometimes I receive an email from him very early in the morning -- at four or five in the morning.

"This is definitely someone I want to work with."

 

To combat bandage stickiness, Liu is working with hydrogel, a gelatin-like substance he is attaching to a polyester dressing. "Polyester is chemically inert. It's not easy to modify," says the assistant professor, who uses ultra-violet light to help fuse the hydrogel to the polyester. Polyester, he says, is one of the most flexible fabrics available, making it easy to conform to skin located on moving body parts. Meanwhile, says Liu, hydrogel is fragile, making it challenge to work with.

Logsetty says no other burn dressings on the market contain the hydrogel they are using. The substance would also help wound recovery, encourage skin growth and aid in keeping the wound moist.

Aside from creating a bandage that won't stick, the pair also want to up the bandage's ability to fight infections and ward off superbugs -- microbes that are resistant to antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents.

Logsetty says leading bandage manufactures impregnate their product with silver, an element that's used to fight bacteria. "It's one of my pet peeves. There are so many companies that have put silver into things to tell you it's going to kill the bacteria. There's no evidence that really supports that," he says.

"Even more dangerously, instead of killing 100 per cent of bacteria, it kills 99.9 per cent of the bacteria, which means the 0.1 per cent that you've got is stronger than the silver."

Liu says he's working with a new compound made up of n-choloromine and quaternary ammonium salt. The former chemical is used for swimming pool disinfection, while the latter is often used in hand soaps.

Liu's research indicates his novel compound is an effective antimicrobial while remaining non-toxic to skin cells.

"I'm standing on the shoulders of giants," says Liu, adding the two chemicals have never been used before in burn dressings.

Logsetty is raising money to fund a research chairman, a scientist who would help advance wound and burn care. To donate to this cause, log onto www.hscfoundation.mb.ca and click on "donate." You will be able to direct your donation to this cause.

 

Have an interesting story you'd like Shamona to write about? Contact her at shamona.harnett@freepress.mb.ca

Burn dressing research facts

 

Researchers: Dr. Sarvesh Logsetty, head of HSC burn unit, and Song Liu, a U of M textile sciences professor.

Their funding: More than $384,000 from the federal government.

Their research goal: To create a burn dressing that won't stick to wounds, will speed up healing and will reduce chances of creating antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Why it could be groundbreaking: Burn dressings tend to stick to wounds, causing burn survivors intense pain. They can also leave the patient more prone to infections. A bandage that doesn't stick would eliminate these problems. The type of antimicrobial used in this potential new bandage has never been used before, which could mean that bacteria won't be resistant to it.

Who the research can help: Anyone with serious wounds, including burn survivors and people with skin ulcers.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2012 D1

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