A new foam that is placed in skin wounds to support and optimize the natural healing process may help prevent scarring.

With the "Scaravoid" project, Markus Rottmar, PhD and his team at Empa's Biointerfaces lab in Switzerland are now intervening at several stages in the process to improve wound healing and prevent scarring. "Traditional treatments target individual factors of wound healing, such as oxygen supply or moisture regulation, and only produce an inadequate tissue response," explains Rottmar in a news release.

It is clear so far that a perfectly orchestrated interaction of numerous individual factors in the body is necessary to close a skin injury and transform it into healthy tissue. Cells must be attracted so that a well-dosed inflammation cleanses the wound. In order for the cleaned defect to close, new tissue grows, which is then transformed into functional skin. A malfunction can disturb the balance and lead to excessive scarring or inadequate wound closure. In older people or diabetics, for instance, the risk that the complex cascade may be impaired is increased.

"Scaravoid” involves the use of a biological polymer scaffold already approved for certain medical uses. In a high-pressure reactor, the polymer is expanded using supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2), whereby the pore size can be finely tuned by varying pressure and temperature. Once placed in a wound, the polymer scaffold is to begin its work. With its open-pored architecture, it offers immigrant cells a suitable structure to settle in. Since the foam is biodegradable, the cells disintegrate the polymer structure and produce a new scaffold according to their needs to form a new, functional tissue.

The polymer scaffold is equipped with a bioactive substance that is supposed to inhibit scarring. The researchers added curcumin to cell cultures and found that the production of biomarkers typically found in scars is significantly reduced.

In the foam, curcumin is bound inside the scaffold and is gradually released. It controls the behavior and function of the cells that migrate into the scaffold and thus supports the natural balance of wound healing. What is currently being analyzed in lab tests in the form of small polymer discs will be used in clinical trials in the form of larger polymer membranes. The membranes can be cut to size by the physician and placed into the wound. The membranes are intended to optimize wound healing, particularly in the event of serious injuries, such as those following traffic accidents or severe burns.