Could restoring electrical signals help heal diabetic wounds?

Could restoring electrical signals help heal diabetic wounds?

For the first time, researchers show that slow healing in diabetic wounds is linked to impaired, naturally occurring electrical signals in the tissue. They suggest the finding could open up new ways to manage chronic or non-healing wounds in people with diabetes.

The researchers found weaker electric fields were linked with slower wound healing in the cornea of the eyes of diabetic mice.

The international team, led by Min Zhao, professor of ophthalmology and of dermatology at the University of California-Davis (UC Davis), reports the finding in the journal Scientific Reports.

People with diabetes often suffer with chronic or non-healing wounds. These can lead to ulcers, gangrene, and amputation.

Prof. Zhao says the worldwide cost of treating diabetes-related wounds, such as chronic ulcers, could be as much as $25 billion.

The biology of why wound healing is slow in people with diabetes is not fully understood.

Wound repair is a complex and precise process that requires tightly controlled cell movement and tissue growth. Electrical fields occur naturally at wounds, and studies show that cells important for tissue repair respond strongly to them.

In previous work, Prof. Zhao and colleagues found changes in electrical fields are linked to impaired healing in the cornea - the transparent outer layer of tissue of the eye.

They showed removal of a small piece of cornea tissue in a healthy eye collapses the natural electrical potential across the thickness of the tissue and creates electric currents - particularly at the edges of the wound. These currents guide cell migration and help to close the wound in around 48 hours.

'Weaker currents may contribute to impaired diabetic healing'

In the new study, the team bred mice to develop three types of diabetes: genetic, drug-induced, and diet-induced - the latter by feeding them on a high-fat diet.

After euthanizing the mice, they removed their eyes and kept them in artificial tear solution. They then scraped off a tiny bit from each cornea and used a very sensitive "vibrating probe" to measure the electrical fields of the wounds.

The team found the "diabetic corneas produced significantly weaker wound electric signals than the normal cornea." All three models showed similar results.

The authors note how an analysis of the measurements "revealed significant correlations between the electric signals and wound healing rate, suggesting that weaker electric currents may contribute to the impaired diabetic healing."

In another part of the study, the team found when they exposed cells from human corneas to high levels of glucose, they responded less strongly to an electrical field. The authors note:

"High glucose in diabetic tears thus may also compromise cell migration and contribute to impaired wound healing."

The researchers suggest their findings offer experimental evidence to support the use of electrical stimulation for the treatment of slow or non-healing wounds.

This is the first demonstration, in diabetic wounds or any chronic wounds, that the naturally occurring electrical signal is impaired and correlated with delayed healing. Correcting this defect offers a totally new approach for chronic and non-healing wounds in diabetes."

Prof. Min Zhao

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Section Issues On Medicine: Disease