Burn wounds — a snapshot of the problem Nanoglue is solving
According to WHO, burn wounds are a global public health problem, accounting for an estimated 180,000 deaths annually. In 2004, nearly 11 million people around the world were burned severely enough to require medical attention.
Where burns most occur
The majority of burns occur in low- and middle-income countries, and almost two thirds occur in African and Southeast Asian nations. In fact, the rate of child deaths from burn injuries is currently over seven times higher in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries. Moreover, burns are among the leading causes of disability-adjusted life-years lost in low- and middle-income countries. By contrast, in many high-income countries, burn death rates have been decreasing. However, non-fatal burns are still a leading cause of morbidity, including prolonged hospitalization, disfigurement and disability, often paired with a resulting stigma and rejection.
How burns heal
The sensation of pain due to a burn injury stems from the heat that destroys skin cells. Minor burns heal much in the same way as cuts do — often, a blister forms that covers the injured area. Under the blister, white blood cells attack bacteria and a new layer of skin starts to grow from the edges of the burn inwards. However, if a burn is very severe, the new skin cannot grow quickly enough to keep the bacteria out. The result is often local infection. Thus, serious burns are often treated with skin transplants. If there is scarring across a body joint due to the healing process, it often limits movement of that area of the body. This happens because the body responds to the loss of skin by making the wound smaller — the skin on both sides of the joint comes together to heal the injured area.
How burns are currently treated
Often, health care providers cover the burned area with sterile bandages with topical antibiotics (skin creams or ointments) or long-acting, silver-containing dressings to prevent infection. For third-degree and severe second-degree burns, patients need extra fluids to maintain blood pressure and prevent shock. Surgeons may treat large burns by removing burned tissue and covering the burn wound with a skin transplant. Depending on the characteristics of a burn (e.g. severity and location), doctors may treat the injury with a combination of treatment methods, such as natural skin transplants, artificial skin products, and laboratory-grown upper skin.
People with minor burns may be treated at their local hospital. Those with more serious burns, however, are often transferred to a facility with a special burn unit. For instance, the American Burn Association maintains a list of verified burn centers in the US. Serious burns include any burns that are likely to lead to impaired physical or psychological recovery. Nevertheless, burn victims need to exercise the injured body parts to maintain their functionality and range of motion.
How Nanoglue fits into all of this
Many burn wounds require skin transplants. One in ten of those transplants, however, fail — sometimes with serious consequences. In the past three years at ETH Zurich and Empa St. Gallen, we have developed a novel nanotechnology-based paste to make skin transplants successful. A unique formulation boosts the body’s own capacity of self-healing and keeps bacterial infections in check. Our nanoparticle paste helps surgeons who want to ensure patient safety and survival by reducing skin transplantation complications and providing swift healing. We collaborate closely with clinicians to ensure our development stays relevant and we close to future early adopters. Our team combines ETH engineering and science with University of St.Gallen (HSG) business-savviness.
Do not miss out on our next Medium article where we will dive deeper into the process of skin transplantation and elaborate on why Nanoglue is a long overdue solution to a (soon to be doomed) problem.
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