Burn wounds require changing bandages constantly, leaving the exposed injuries open to infection, one of the leading causes of death for victims. To combat this, researchers from multiple universities, hospitals, and burn centers in Switzerland have created a type of bandage which accelerates the scarring process and prevents harmful bacteria from multiplying.

The bandage is based on a biodegradable gauze the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois developed in 2005 using horse collagen, proteins found in bone, ligaments, and tendons along with stem cell-like progenitor cells. This material speeds up healing but doesn’t protect against microbes.

The new bandages, described in an article published in Scientific Reports, combine the gauze with dendrimers, which are similar to proteins and have been shown to kill the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the main cause of infections and death in burn victims. When the bandage is attached to the burn wound, the dendrimers get to work. Some head into the wound to destroy microbes there, others remain inside the bandage to destroy any bacteria looking to find a home on it.

The researchers said their bandages continued fighting off microbes for as many as five days, a day longer than many normal gauze dressings are left on burn victims. The dendrimers also had no effect on the migration of keratinocyte, a type of skin cell which helps the healing process. On top of that, the wound they experimented on closed more in 40 hours than an uncovered wound would have, and completely closed in 72 hours.

"Currently, we have to take enormous precautions with our patients," said lead author Lee Ann Laurent-Applegate, the head of the Regenerative Therapy Unit at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois, in a press release. "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. And we cannot prescribe antibiotics to all patients as a preventive measure for fear of making the bacteria more resistant. With the new bandages, rather than treating infections, we will be preventing them. We are nipping the problem in the bud."

At any given time there are about 486,000 people receiving medical treatment for one of the three types of burns. While first-degree burns are often minor and can be treated within a few days, second- and third-degree burns affect the outer layer of skin and some or all of the skin beneath it. These are defined as serious burns and if not treated properly, can lead to infections contracted while in the hospital. These healthcare-associated infections affect up to 10 percent of the population each year, resulting in nearly 100,000 deaths and more than $20 billion in total healthcare costs in the United States.

This new bandage could help lower all of these numbers, though more research into its effectiveness needs to be done before it can be used in hospitals.

Source: Laurent-Applegate L, et al. Anti-Microbial Dendrimers against Multidrug-Resistant P. aeruginosa Enhance the Angiogenic Effect of Biological Burn-wound Bandages. Scientific Reports . 2016.