According to US and Canadian researchers, a “spray-on skin” developed by Healthpoint Biotherapeutics in the US, which coats a wound with a layer of skin cells, could help healing leg ulcers.
The spray was tested on 228 people with leg ulcers, which are painful open wounds that can last for months.
The findings, published in the Lancet, showed that ulcers treated with the spray were more likely to heal and did so more quickly.
Experts said faster healing could save money despite the cost of the spray.
Leg ulcers are hard to treat. The best treatment, compression bandages, will heal only about 70% of ulcers after six months. Other options include taking skin from somewhere else on the body and grafting it over the wound.
Instead the spray puts a coating of donated skin cells and blood-clotting proteins over the ulcer.
A "spray-on skin" developed by Healthpoint Biotherapeutics, which coats a wound with a layer of skin cells, could help healing leg ulcers
In the study, patients who were given the spray-on-skin every 14 days showed the most improvement.
The researchers said the size of the wound “began to decrease rapidly” as soon as the treatment started. In the patients who had the spray, 70% were healed after three months compared with 46% who received other treatment.
The spray was developed by Healthpoint Biotherapeutics in the US, which also funded the research.
One of the scientists involved, Dr. Herbert Slade, said: “The treatment we tested in this study has the potential to vastly improve recovery times and overall recovery from leg ulcers, without the need for a skin graft.
“This means not only that the patient doesn’t acquire a new wound where the graft is taken from, but also that the spray-on solution can be available as soon as required – skin grafts take a certain amount of time to prepare, which exposes the patient to further discomfort and risk of infection.”
The study largely tested the safety of the spray and the best dose to use, further studies will decide if it is a practical treatment for leg ulcers.
Leg ulcers are most commonly caused by high blood pressure in the veins of the legs which damage the skin, causing it to break down and develop into an open wound.
Researchers studying mice at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California have converted skin cells directly into cells which develop into the main components of the brain.
The experiment, which was reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, skipped the middle “stem cell” stage in the process.
The researchers said they were “thrilled” at the potential medical uses.
Far more tests are needed before the technique could be used on human skin.
Stem cells, which can become any other specialist type of cell from brain to bone, are thought to have huge promise in a range of treatments. Many trials are taking place, such as in stroke patients or specific forms of blindness.
One of the big questions for the field is where to get the cells from. There are ethical concerns around embryonic stem cells and patients would need to take immunosuppressant drugs as any stem cell tissue would not match their own.
An alternative method has been to take skin cells and reprogram them into “induced” stem cells. These could be made from a patient’s own cells and then turned into the cell type required, however, the process results in cancer-causing genes being activated.
The research group is looking at another option – converting a person’s own skin cells into specialist cells, without creating “induced” stem cells. It has already transformed skin cells directly into neurons.
This study created “neural precursor” cells, which can develop into three types of brain cell: neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes.
These precursor cells have the advantage that, once created, they can be grown in a laboratory into very large numbers. This could be critical if the cells were to be used in any therapy.
Brain cells and skin cells contain the same genetic information, however, the genetic code is interpreted differently in each. This is controlled by “transcription factors”.
The researchers used a virus to infect skin cells with three transcription factors known to be at high levels in neural precursor cells.
After three weeks about one in 10 of the cells became neural precursor cells.
Lead researcher Prof. Marius Wernig said: “We are thrilled about the prospects for potential medical use of these cells.
“We’ve shown the cells can integrate into a mouse brain and produce a missing protein important for the conduction of electrical signal by the neurons.
“More work needs to be done to generate similar cells from human skin cells and assess their safety and efficacy.”
Dr. Deepak Srivastava, who has researched converting cells into heart muscle, said the study: “Opens the door to consider new ways to regenerate damaged neurons using cells surrounding the area of injury.”