Healing glasses


Dr. Delbert Day (right) and Dr. Steve Jung with borate glass nanofibers (inset). Photo by B.A. Rupert

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What if all a battlefield medic had to do to treat a serious or lingering wound was to stuff it with a material that looks and feels like cotton candy? Sounds unlikely, but that is pretty close to what is happening in a clinical trial at Phelps County Regional Medical Center in Rolla, Mo.

The cotton candy-like fibrous material used in the trial was developed at Missouri S&T’s Graduate Center for Materials Research and the Center for Bone and Tissue Repair and Regeneration by bioglass pioneer Dr. Delbert Day, Curators’ Professor emeritus of ceramic engineering, and his former graduate student, Dr. Steve Jung, who earned bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Missouri S&T. The material is produced at Mo-Sci Corp., a glass technology company Day co-founded.

In a recent clinical trial, the material, a nanofiber borate glass, was found to speed the healing of venous stasis wounds in eight of the 12 patients enrolled.

Other bioactive glass materials are formed from silicate glass compositions and have been used primarily for hard-tissue regeneration, such as bone repair. But Day and Jung say borate glass reacts with body fluids much faster than silicate glasses.

“The borate glass nanofibers (about 1/1000 the diameter of a human hair) react with the body fluids very quickly” when applied to an open wound, says Day. “They begin to dissolve and release elements into the body that stimulate the body to grow new blood vessels and new soft tissue. This improves the blood supply to the wound, allowing the body’s normal healing processes to take over.”

The treatment is simple. First the wound is washed with water, and then a pad of the dry nano fibers is applied to the wound. Every four to seven days, the wound is washed and a new pad of dry fiber is applied until the wound is healed. There is very little scarring.

Clinical trials at Phelps County Regional Medical Center in Rolla began in the fall of 2010 with 13 subjects, and now includes a total of 32 patients with many different types of non-healing wounds, including pressure ulcers, bed sores and surgical incisions. Many are diabetics with wounds that have not healed for up to a year.

Depending on the severity of the wound, Day says the wounds can heal within a few weeks to several months after the glass nanofiber material is applied. “Within a few days, most patients see an improvement,” he says.

Day foresees expanding the clinical trials to include patients with other types of difficult-to-heal wounds, such as burn victims.

By Mary Helen Stoltz
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