Healing Wounds Faster with Electrical Stimulation

22 May 2023
Maria Asplund, Associate Professor of Bioelectronics at Chalmers University of Technology, and her team have developed a method that can heal chronic wounds up to three times faster. The method is based on an old hypothesis suggesting that electrical stimulation can be used to heal damaged skin. The researchers discovered that skin cells are electrotactic, meaning they move in a specific direction within electric fields. By placing an electric field in a petri dish containing skin cells, they observed that the cells no longer moved randomly but in a coordinated direction.

Healing through Electrical Stimulation

Asplund and her team explored how this principle could be used to electrically guide cells and expedite wound healing. They used a small, manipulated chip to compare wound healing in artificial skin. One wound was treated with electrical stimulation, while another was left to heal without electricity. The results were promising: the electrically stimulated wound healed three times faster than the non-electrically stimulated wound. Thus, the researchers discovered that electrical stimulation can be used to significantly expedite wound healing.

Wound Healing in Diabetes

The researchers also investigated how electrical stimulation could be used to accelerate wound healing in relation to diabetes. Diabetes affects wound healing because it impairs blood circulation and damages nerves, leading to a reduced ability to feel pain or pressure. This means that people with diabetes may not realize they have a wound, and it can go unnoticed for a long time, resulting in further complications. As diabetes is a growing global health problem, the researchers also focused on wound healing related to this disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Diabetes Federation, one in eleven adults now has some form of diabetes. Asplund and her team discovered that electrical stimulation can increase the speed of wound healing, even in cells affected by diabetes, nearly matching healthy skin cells. The researchers recently received substantial funding, which will allow them to continue their research and eventually bring wound healing products for consumers to the market. Asplund and her colleagues are working on a concept where wounds are "scanned" and stimulation is adjusted based on the individual wound. They believe this is the key to effectively helping people with slow-healing wounds in the future.

A Potential Solution

The method of electrical stimulation is not new and has been used for decades in medical applications such as bone healing. In 2020, a group of collaborating scientists initiated a project aiming to restore vision in blind individuals using electrical stimulation of the brain. However, the researchers' method is different because it is non-invasive and does not require surgery. It could be a more cost-effective and less painful option for patients with chronic wounds. The researchers are now collaborating with industrial partners to develop new wound healing products based on their method. They hope that these products will be available on the market in the near future and contribute to improving the quality of life for people with chronic wounds.