For most people, a cut or scrape, especially a minor one, is of little concern. These injuries generally heal in a few days and don’t require much treatment. Even larger wounds are not too worrisome, although they may need a bit more attention.
But for people with diabetes, wounds are a different story. They can often take several days longer than they should to heal and require more medical attention than injuries in non-diabetics. To put things in perspective, a wound that would take 23 days to heal in an ordinary person might take about 26 days in a person with diabetes.
So why do people with diabetes have more trouble healing? It’s mostly because high blood sugar levels over a long period of time cause the arteries to become stiffer and more narrow, which means they are not able to carry blood, oxygen, and nutrients as easily, especially to the body’s extremities. This limitation of blood flow and nutrient supply makes it more difficult for the body to heal wounds.
Along with a lack of nutrients, improper blood flow also causes a decrease in the number of white blood cells able to reach the extremities to fight off infections. And because people with diabetes can suffer from diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage, they aren’t always aware that they have an injury until it becomes a bigger problem.
A few special wound dressings have been invented to combat the issue of slow wound healing in people with diabetes, but most of them are not monetarily viable for use in all patients with diabetes. But it appears that is about to change.
In an effort to help people with diabetes heal more quickly and prevent and fight off infections more easily, researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M) have developed a new type of low-cost wound dressing. It’s made out of reduced graphene oxide—a sheet of very thin graphite treated with intense sunlight—mixed with a rubbery substance called electrolyzed isabgol.
The dressing works by creating a scaffold-like structure to encourage blood vessels to grow back in the affected area. The team expects to cut down the cost of having a wound dressed with this material to less than $15 by the time they’ve finished developing it.
The product was tested on two groups of rats, one with diabetes and one without. The non-diabetic group’s wounds healed in 23 days when left untreated, versus just 16 days with the special dressing. And in rats with diabetes, similar wounds took 26 days to heal on their own but just 20 days with the help of the dressing.
This means that patients with diabetes can likely expect their wounds to heal a week earlier on average, depending, of course, on the size and severity of the wound. The product, however, has yet to be tested on humans. We can only hope that it will translate well.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?