New skin patch helps keep diabetic foot ulcers at bay

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Geoffrey Gurtner, M.D.
Geoffrey Gurtner, M.D.

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine have developed a drug delivered through a skin patch that not only helps diabetic foot ulcers heal faster, but prevents the wounds from recurring.

In addition to blocked blood vessels, the blood sugar toxicity in people with diabetes impairs a protein called hypoxia inducible factor-1 alpha (HIF-1α), which turns on the genes that help form new networks of small blood vessels needed to heal damaged tissue.

In an effort to help these wounds heal properly, researchers examined the ability of deferoxamine, a medication that's been available for more than 60 years, to increase HIF-1α in diabetes patients. To help the drug's molecules adequately penetrate the skin, they developed a transdermal patch to deliver the drug. 

After testing the topical solution of the medication and the patch on a human skin apparatus, researchers found that it allowed the foot ulcer to heal 14 days faster, and it boosted healing by improving the skin's collagen levels. Because it helps the skin heal better, the patch could even prevent repeat ulcers, too, says Geoffrey Gurtner, M.D., one of the study's authors.

“We have lots of diagnostic modalities to tell when we find that there's low oxygen or delivery of blood, but there's not much we can do except tell the person to take better care of their feet,” Gurtner says. “This drug could actually change the biology of diabetic patients.”