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3D-Printed Wound Dressing Improves Treatment of Burn Patients

The polymer-based wound dressing allows fine-tuning of the surface properties, balancing adhesion with easy removal.

Posted by Staff

June 6, 2023

A new 3D-printed polymer-based wound dressing could enhance healing and reduce discomfort for burn patients. A key feature is the ability to fine-tune surface properties, balancing the wound dressing’s adhesion to the skin with easy removal. Frequent dressing changes can be particularly painful for burn victims using conventional products.

The research conducted at the University of Waterloo in Ontario is described in a study published in the Journal of Colloids and Interfacial Science.

Patient-specific design via 3D printing

"To treat burn victims, we can customize the shape using a 3D printer. Secondly, the material has fine-tuned surface adhesion,” said Dr. Boxin Zhao, a professor in Waterloo's Department of Chemical Engineering. “The material can easily adhere to the skin and be taken off. It's a very delicate balance within the material to make the adhesion work."

In developing the dressing, the researchers conducted a 3D scan of the patient's face and body parts to customize the device. This enables the dressing to make good contact with surfaces like noses and fingers, making it ideal for creating personalized wound dressings for burn patients, said the university’s news release.

Additional applications include cancer treatment, cosmetics

The material also has applications for cancer treatment. In traditional chemotherapy, a patient may need to be in a clinic for hours, which can be tedious and uncomfortable. This dressing can provide a constant drug release outside the clinical setting, alleviating some of the challenges associated with traditional methods, according to the researchers.

The dressing is fabricated with a biopolymer derived from seaweed, a thermally responsive polymer, and cellulose nanocrystals. Thermal responsiveness allows the dressing to warm on the skin and gently lower to room temperature. Additionally, when chilled, the dressing expands but shrinks to a smaller size at body temperature, making it easier and less painful to remove. The dressing is also designed to provide time-release medication, allowing for longer-lasting pain relief. 

The researchers also envision applications in the beauty and cosmetics industry. "Cosmetologists can utilize 3D scanning technology to analyze their clients' facial features and customize hydrogel masks infused with specific facial and skin regimen products,” explained Zhao, Waterloo's Endowed Chair in Nanotechnology. “Additionally, this innovative approach can benefit plastic surgeons."

This research is proof of concept for Zhao's Surface Science and Bio-nanomaterials Laboratory Group. The next step for Zhao's research group is to continue improving the material's properties to make it healthier and commercially viable.

The embedded video demonstrates the multi-thermal aspects of the wound dressing.

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