Diabetes Forecast

7 Cutting-Edge Treatments for Diabetic Wounds

Innovative treatments for hard-to-heal wounds

Illustration by Rae Danneman

Under Pressure

Hyperbaric pressure chambers expose the wound to pure, pressurized oxygen. Hyperbaric treatment remains controversial—studies have shown it has benefits, but it’s also extremely expensive and time consuming, requiring dozens of sessions and tens of thousands of dollars per wound.

Sound Bites

A treatment on the horizon uses ultrasound to pummel cells with sound waves. Developed by a Georgia-based company called Sanuwave, the device pulls and stretches cell walls and prompts blood vessel growth, the company claims. Its dermaPACE device is being reviewed by the FDA and could be on the market by the end of the year. “It’s like jumper cables for your car—once you get the blood flowing, you can take it to the shop and get it fixed,” says Sanuwave Chief Executive Officer Kevin Richardson.

Stemming Damage

Stem cell therapy uses cells found in blood and bone marrow to grow new skin over the affected area and help close wounds so they can heal. Stem cell therapy for diabetic foot wounds remains experimental, but the early results are promising: According to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, the treatment helps wounds close faster and leads to fewer adverse events and wound-related infections.

Protein Power

Another new treatment involves applying proteins called epidermal growth factors, or EGFs, to foot wounds. They’re natural proteins that encourage cell growth, but in diabetic wounds there aren’t enough of them. Experiments are underway to see how effective they are and what kinds of doses may have a beneficial effect.

Substitute Skin

Covering wounds with skin grafts or skin substitutes—specially engineered webs of human cells suspended on a mesh that dissolves over time—can boost healing. The substitutes give the body’s cells a sort of scaffold to grow on in order to cover wounds that might not heal otherwise.

Good to Grow

Growth factors are proteins that signal cells to multiply. When they’re applied to wounds in the form of a gel, they can accelerate healing. The treatment is still very expensive, and some researchers think that, in very rare cases, cell growth can get out of control and lead to cancer.

No Pressure

Negative pressure wound therapy, or NPWT, puts the wound in a low-pressure environment. A special dressing attached to a vacuum pump is attached to the surface of the skin. The suction helps drain the wound and stimulate the growth of small blood vessels while drawing the edges of the wound together. Over the past 20 years, NPWT pumps and dressings have become more sophisticated and less cumbersome.

Click here to read about top treatments for wounds that won't heal.

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