Schematic illustration of microalga-hydrogel patch (AGP) preparation through polyurethane film and polytetrafluoroethylene membrane to perform the light response dissolved oxygen release for chronic wound.

Alice Klein reports that a skin patch made of living blue-green algae speeds up wound healing in mice and may help to treat chronic wounds in people with diabetes, according to research published recently in the journal Science Advances.

About a quarter of people with diabetes develop chronic wounds because they have poor circulation and other complications that make it harder for their skin to heal following cuts and scrapes. In severe cases, the affected body part has to be amputated.

Diabetic wounds are sometimes treated with oxygen gas, as oxygen is known to assist with skin healing. But often it doesn’t work because only a small amount of oxygen gas is able to penetrate the skin.

To improve oxygen delivery into the skin, researchers at Nanjing University in China developed a wound patch filled with living Synechococcus elongatus bacteria — more commonly known as blue-green algae — that naturally produce oxygen in the presence of sunlight via the process of photosynthesis.

The wound patch also contained hydrogel beads designed to soak up oxygen produced by the bacteria and carry it deep into the skin by seeping into sweat ducts and hair follicles. The cost of making one patch was less than £0.82 ($0.99US).

The researchers compared the effectiveness of the bacterial patch to standard oxygen gas therapy in mice with diabetes that had skin wounds measuring 1 centimeter in diameter.

After six days, the wounds treated with the bacterial patch had shrunk by 45 per cent, compared to only 20 per cent for those treated with oxygen gas. The wounds treated with the bacterial patch also closed completely about three days earlier, and no side-effects were observed.

The superior performance of the bacterial patch seemed to be related to better oxygen delivery, as it was found to carry about 100 times more oxygen into the mouse skin than oxygen gas.

The researchers are now hoping to test the patch in larger animals before progressing to human clinical trials.

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