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2 November 2001 News Update


An artificial matrix made from pigskin that enables non-healing wounds to heal in the elderly is now being developed to repair bone, cartilage and blood vessels.

Permacol - which for some time has been on the market as a synthetic material to encourage the healing of ulcers, burns and full-thickness skin wounds - has already been used internally to treat hernias.

Trials are now under way to use the substance in a milled form. As such, the collagen preparation can be injected into body sites and ''moulded'' around body features.

''Perhaps the most exciting potential for Permacol is its ability to seed the matrix with the patient's own cells,'' said Dr Ian Kill of Brunel University, west London.

''In this way it may be possible to enhance repair processes by boosting the body's cellular regeneration abilities. Furthermore, it may even be possible to use Permacol, or a similar product, to reconstitute other tissue types. Bone, cartilage and blood vessels all have collagen as their matrix but differ in their constituent cells. By growing appropriate cells within the collagen matrix, it may be possible to generate useful tissue-repair kits,'' he added.

Injury, disease, burns or surgery can result in major damage and loss to soft tissues such as skin. During the early phases of repair, the body lays down a loose matrix over the wound that subsequently provides support for the growth of epithelial cells, the outer covering of the body.

In severe cases of trauma, particularly in elderly patients, natural repair processes are unable to cope well with damage and can result in scarring or chronic non-healing wounds. The body is unable to make a sufficient or an appropriate matrix to provide support for the epithelial layer.

Synthetic repair materials from cow and pig skin often caused allergic reactions in the donor until researchers removed all cellular components from pig skin, gave it a chemical and sterilisation treatment and produced Permacol.

According to Dr Kill this has proved to be non-allergenic, strong, flexible, permanent, sterile and an extremely versatile biomaterial for surgical repair. Because collagen makes up about 30 per cent of the body's weight, a ``collagen repair kit'' clearly has widespread uses.

In the UK, besides Brunel University, there are a number of other universities working on wound-healing including Cardiff, Manchester and Dundee.

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