Drexel researchers from the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems and the College of Medicine are studying the possibility of using ultrasound technology as a healing tool for chronic wounds, according to a press release published Aug. 1. The team is experimenting with ultrasound technology by harnessing its potential to heal by using it at a slower frequency and lower energy levels.
Peter A. Lewin, a professor in Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering, is the primary investigator of the project, and his team’s preliminary tests have shown that low-frequency therapeutic ultrasound can increase the rate of healing in chronic wounds that would otherwise heal at slower rates.
Lewin’s team includes Michael A. Weingarten, a professor in the College of Medicine; Leonid Zubkov, a professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering; and biomedical engineering doctoral students Joshua Samuels, Chris Bawiec and Younhan Sunny.
The target wounds that Lewin hopes to heal are known as venous ulcers. Venous ulcers are wounds that affect more than 500,000 people each year and occur due to the improper functioning of venous valves located in the legs. A problem with this type of chronic wound is how expensive the treatment can be; it can cost patients as much as $2,400 per month.
“Right now, venous ulcers are primarily treated using passive methods. These include compression therapy to reduce swelling, keeping the wound moist and clean, and topically applied hydrogels,” Samuels explained. “The few active therapies available are very expensive to use, costing up to several hundred dollars per application. We feel that ultrasound energy could expedite healing with a reusable, rechargeable, wearable technology which could be applied at home, between visits to their physician.”
Drexel’s research team is aiming to address these issues with the advancements in ultrasound technology.
Weingarten said that this technology could be a more affordable option for patients if it can be combined with compression treatment into a wearable form.
The wearable technology is a lightweight and battery-powered ultrasound device that the team is developing. By developing this device, they hope to provide active treatment as opposed to current passive treatments both to reduce medical expenses and to help heal wounds faster.
The therapeutic device combines ultrasound technology with compression technology to treat patients’ wounds. Ultrasound technology is used for the examination of pregnant women and treatment for injuries related to athletes, but this is the first time it is being used to treat patients with chronic wounds. The dramatic reduction in the dosage of energy administered makes it possible to prescribe the dosage for lengthier periods of time with comprehensive results; the ultrasound treatment can be applied directly to the wound for a longer period of time due to the gentle nature of the pressure being applied by the compression device.
Bawiec and Sunny developed the ultrasound applicator, and Samuels conducted a study using the applicator in Weingarten’s wound clinic at the College of Medicine. The tests involved treating 20 patients, who were divided into four different groups based on the strength of their ultrasound treatment and the duration of time that it was applied to their wound.
The four-week treatment trials resulted in complete healing for five patients who were subjected to lower frequencies for shorter periods of time. These five patients were administered 20 kHz rather than 100 kHz and were only subjected to 15 minutes of treatment instead of 45 minutes, which proved to be the most effective combination. The study will also be featured in the August special edition of the Journal of the Acoustic Society of America.
“It will take several years going through the [Food and Drug Administration] approval process and regulations before this could be used commercially. We would like to establish a connection with a company in the biotech industry to partner with for that development and approval process, which could begin within the next year or two,” Samuels said.
As part of a National Institutes of Health study, the group will continue to investigate how and why this treatment works. The team will monitor the three phases of wound healing — inflammation, proliferation and remodeling — using a near-infrared scanner to find out how the ultrasound affects the healing process.