Biodegradable Bandage Helps Prevent Infection in Burn Patients -- Here's How

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Feb 26, 2016 06:54 AM EST

SAN ANTONIO, TX - AUGUST 08: Occupational therapist Jennifer Tucker puts a skin compression glove onto the burned hand of Spc. Bobby Bernier, 26, at the U.S. Army burn center on August 8, 2012 in San Antonio, Texas. Bernier, a U.S. Army artileryman, received severe burns on May 18, 2012 in Nangahar, Afghanistan when Taliban insurgents attacked his unit, wounding him and a comrade and killing two of his fellow soldiers. The facility, officially called the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center, has treated more than 930 military personel wounded during combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003 and is the only burn center under the U.S. Department of Defense. It has also treated some 2,500 civilian emergency burn patients from the South Texas region. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) (Photo : John Moore/Getty Images)

Due to advancements in medical care, burn victims are less likely to die from their injuries but rather due to the growth of infections while being wrapped up in bandages. A group of Swiss researchers have developed a bandage which speeds up the scarring process and inhibits the bacteria from reproducing.

According to the American Burn Association's statistics for 2015, approximately 486,000 patients are admitted for burns yearly.

There are three types of burns. First-degree burns are considered minor and can be treated within a few days.

Patients with second or third-degree burns require proper treatment as the trauma may affect several layers of skin. Improper treatment of these types of burns can lead to the growth of infections.

A report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that healthcare-associated infections amount to 10 percent of hospitalization cases in the U.S. every year. This amounts to 1.7 million cases, with 99,000 cases resulting in the death of the patient.

The anti-microbial bandages could help lower these numbers.

CHUV Regenerative Therapy Unit head Lee Ann Laurent-Applegate explained the situation in a recent news release stating, "The bandages, which sometimes cover most parts of the body, need to be changed every day for several months. Yet that does not stop infections."

Antibiotics are often used to control the infection but not all patients could be given antibiotics. Some medical practitioners are wary of providing antibiotics as the medication could make the bacteria become resistant.

To prevent infection, researchers had to find a way on how to inhibit the growth of the Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria. This type of bacteria was seen as the cause for most infections and deaths of burn patients.

In 2005, scientists from the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois developed a biodegradable bandage using collagen and proteins from horses. Although they were effective in speeding up the skin's ability to heal itself, the bandage was useless in protecting the skin from microbes.

"Bandages are a favorable environment for bacterial growth," Dominique Pioletti said in a statement. Pioletti is the head of the Laboratory of Biomechanical Orthopedics for EPFL.

To inhibit the growth of bacteria, scientists integrated dendrimers into the gauze. Dendrimers are a special type of molecules with tree-like branches.

When dendrimers come into contact with the skin, they destroy any microbe that they come across.

"With the new bandages, rather than treating infections, we will be preventing them," Applegate stated.

More research and tests are still needed before the bandage can be approved for use in hospitals or clinics.

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