Wood for new bandage with healing properties

Wednesday 6 Nov 2019

 
A skin dressing made from tree bark which could transform treatment of wounds and reduce scarring
• The tree-based bandage called FibDex contains fibres extracted from birch trees
• The bandages provide a ‘scaffold’ on to which healthy new skin cells can grow

A bandage made from bark could transform the treatment of wounds. The soft dressing contains tiny fibres extracted from birch trees grown in Finland which are strong enough to provide a ‘scaffold’ on to which healthy new skin cells can grow.

They are also super-absorbent so can mop up moisture from a wound that might otherwise allow bacteria to grow, leading to an infection.

Called FibDex, the tree-based bandage is the first of its kind to be approved for use in the UK. Research shows just one plaster is enough to help difficult wounds heal, whereas most dressings have to be changed every few days. The wood fibres also produced less scarring and greater skin elasticity — a sign of better healing — than some conventional dressings.

The FibDex bandage is made from nanofibrillar cellulose — tiny strands of fibre, each smaller than a human hair — extracted from silver birch trees.

Birch tree extract has been used for centuries as a remedy for wounds. It also releases a chemical, called betulin, which stimulates the growth of healthy new skin cells to repair damage. So far the bandage, developed by researchers from Helsinki University and surgeons from Helsinki Burn Centre, has been tested on burns patients who needed major skin grafts. First a large patch of the patient’s healthy skin — at least 6in (15cm) by 2in (5cm) — was removed from another part of the body and grafted on to the burned area.

This leaves a sizeable wound where the skin has been taken from — normally this is covered in a dressing that needs changing every few days.

typically wounds occur on the foot or lower leg, as a result of circulation problems arising from diabetes. Starved of the oxygen they need to heal, these ulcers can form deep, open wounds that can take years to heal.

In their search for new ways to improve the healing process, scientists have turned their attention to wood — partly because it’s biocompatible, which means it does not cause the body’s immune system to react. It is also a rich source of cellulose, a fibrous material used for decades in the production of clothing, paper, plastics and even explosives — the benefit for treating wounds is its absorbency.

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