Chronic wounds treated with very low electrical currents heal more quickly than they do with standard treatments, a new study suggests. Researchers studying the ElectroRegenesis Therapy Device (ERTD) say it stimulates the body's natural ability to heal wounds related to amputations, long-term ulcers, diabetic lesions, circulation problems, paralysis and even advanced age.
Several patients -- some of whom had had wounds for five years -- showed significant healing in just one or two sessions. The promising study, presented recently at the 8th International Congress of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine in Las Vegas, may spell painless relief for the estimated 2 percent of Americans living with wounds that don't heal. "We don't completely understand why it works," says Dr. Alfred J. Koonin, clinical study monitor for the device. "What we do understand is that the device seems to act as an ultra-powerful antioxidant that knocks out infection, stimulates blood flow and encourages cell regeneration."
And it also appears to help patients regardless of their age, which can be a factor with conventional treatments such as dressings, gel packs, topical medication and surgical procedures, says Koonin, director of research for the American Institute of Regeneration in Los Angeles. Chronic wounds are those that show no sign of healing in four weeks or have not significantly healed in eight weeks, says Kristin Winbigler, director of the Wound Care Center at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut.
As the population ages and people live longer lives, chronic wounds become a significant problem and more wound-care centers are opening across the United States, she says. "As people age, the body tends to break down," she says. "And with diabetics, there is a high glucose level in the tissue that interferes with healing. When you or I might bump into something, it would heal. For them, it's a bigger problem."
The study observed 25 wounds in patients ranging in age from 20 to 75. For 23 minutes a day, they were wrapped in spongy, damp bandages above and below the wound. The researchers then wrapped electrodes over the bandages and attached them to the device, which delivered a low electrical current similar to that present naturally in the body. After 23 minutes, wraps were applied to their feet and the treatment continued for three more hours. Most of the patients received treatments five days a week for about two weeks.
The average rate of healing was about three-quarters of a centimeter each day of treatment. Many of the wounds that had not responded to conventional therapy for months healed within a few weeks, researchers found. Koonin says the therapy kick starts the body's natural energy source, which is essential to healing. "In layman's terms, it takes an electrical system that's out of whack and sort of normalizes it," he says. Koonin says some of the machine's effects are a little mystifying.
While conventional therapies often require surgical or chemical removal of any dead tissue before treatment begins, dead tissue seemed to disappear after treatment with the device. "It seemed to be reabsorbed by the body or converted to new tissue. It's difficult to tell which," says Koonin. "My own feeling is it was probably reabsorbed into the body, but we don't know." A slight rash around the wound was the only negative side effect noticed in some patients. But Koonin says the treatments also seemed to have another positive side effect. "Many of them got a little brighter," he says, particularly older patients, paraplegics and quadraplegics. "Their appetites started to resume. It's the sort of thing you'd expect from an antioxidant. It sort of cleans up the tissue. They felt better."'
Koonin believes the ERTD, which has a patent pending, will have many applications. Some animal testing on spinal cord injuries is being done and trials are planned to test its effects on severe facial pain, shingles and poor circulation. He hopes the device will receive FDA approval in the next few months. Winbigler says wound-care centers offer a wide range of therapies for people with chronic wounds. Though she has heard of ERTD, she says her center and many others now favor more aggressive techniques, including surgical methods, for fast healing.
Thanks to Meredith Guinness
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