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Ultrasound ‘Band-Aid’ Speeds Wound Healing

August 1, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Cardiac Imaging, Musculoskeletal Radiology
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A tiny ultrasound applicator worn like a Band-Aid—albeit a Band-Aid with wires leading to a battery pack—considerably accelerated healing in patients  with venous ulcers, which are notoriously difficult to treat. The startling results came in a small clinical trial at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Venous ulcers, caused when blood pools in the leg following malfunction of valves in veins, account for 80 percent of all chronic wounds on the lower extremities and affect 500,000 U.S. patients a year, according to the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. The institute funded the study.

“There have been studies on the therapeutic benefits of ultrasound for wound healing, but most of the previous research was performed at much higher frequencies, around 1 to 3 megahertz,” said Peter A. Lewin, PhD, the Richard B. Beard Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Drexel and the primary investigator on this study. Dr. Lewin continued:

We had an idea that if we went down to the range of 20 to 100 kilohertz, which is at least an order of magnitude lower, we might see more profound changes. That’s exactly what happened.

Dr. Lewin was quoted in an institute news release. Drexel also has a news release about the research, with additional details. It reports that the findings will be published in an August special edition of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America that will focus on therapeutic ultrasound applications.

The researchers treated 20 patients, 5 each with 15 minutes of ultrasound at 20 kHz, 45 minutes at 20 kHz, 15 minutes at 100 kHz, and 15 minutes of a sham (placebo). The group with 15 minutes of ultrasound at 20 kHz showed the greatest improvement. All 5 of those patients experienced complete healing by the fourth treatment.

“We were surprised that the group receiving 45 minutes of treatment didn’t achieve the same benefits as the 15-minute group,” said Joshua Smith, a PhD candidate and lead author of the study, “but sometimes we learn that more is not always better. There may be a dosing effect.”

The researchers plan studies on patients with other types of chronic wounds, such as diabetic and pressure ulcers. They’re also testing a diagnostic monitoring add-on to the ultrasound patch that uses near-infrared spectroscopy to help optimize treatment for each patient and each type of wound. The spectroscopy can detect early changes to the wound bed that are difficult to see with the naked eye.

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