The benefits of poison

Thursday 6 December 2012

Innovative technology using poisonous gases to help heal wounds is one step closer thanks to an award made to researchers at the University of St Andrews.

Professor Russell Morris, of the University’s School of Chemistry, has been awarded almost £200,000 by the Royal Society to help further develop technology that could also significantly cut NHS treatment costs.

The funding was part of the Royal Society Brian Mercer Award for Innovation 2012 presented to Professor Morris by The Duke of York in a ceremony in London last night (Wednesday 5 December).

The research involves an exciting development in chemical technology that can be used to apply small, beneficial amounts of the gas, nitric oxide, to wounds safely, in order speed up healing.  Nitric oxide is a simple gas molecule which in large amounts is significantly toxic; however in small amounts it has essential roles in the body, such as controlling blood pressure in the cardiovascular system and also in wound healing.

The funding will allow Professor Morris and his team to develop the concept – which could speed up wound healing significantly in diabetes sufferers, the elderly and the obese – for commercial exploitation and clinical trials.

Professor Morris explained, “When a wound occurs in normal skin the body produces nitric oxide to fight infection through its antibacterial properties and then to signal the production of new blood vessels to increase blood flow to the damaged area. Unfortunately people who suffer from diabetes, or those who are elderly or obese often don’t produce enough nitric oxide naturally which can lead to poor wound healing. In bad cases such as chronic wounds which do not heal, the affected limbs may need to be amputated.”

Among chronic wounds the highest prevalence lays in the venous leg ulcer, diabetic foot/leg wound and pressure ulcer categories. Estimates of annual VLU incidence around the world are around 2 million (1 million alone in the US).  Patients with type I or II diabetes have a 1-4% annual chance of foot ulceration and a lifetime risk as high as 25%.

The NHS currently spends £8.8 billion per annum on care for patients with type II diabetes alone. Estimates for the UK indicate that 15% of all diabetes patients develop DFUs and that they lead to 84% of lower leg amputations.

There is strong evidence that the addition of nitric oxide to wounds can be extremely beneficial in these situations. However, because it is a toxic gas, there needs to be a method of applying small, beneficial amounts of gas to wounds safely.

The technology – metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) – being developed by Professor Morris offers a safe new way of treating such wounds with gases.  By incorporating MOFs into wound dressings, nitric oxide can be delivered slowly and at levels which do not cause any toxic or inflammatory effects, aiding wound recovery safely.

Professor Morris commented, “The highly porous metal-organic frameworks act as miniature gas tanks, allowing us to deliver only safe and beneficial amounts of nitric oxide from something as easy to use as a wound dressing. This will transform how we can use this gas to help people with debilitating chronic wounds.”



Issued by the University of St Andrews Press Office

Contact Gayle Cook, Senior Communications Manager on 01334 467227, 07900 050 103 or [email protected]

Ref: Poison 6/12/12

Follow St Andrews news on Twitter
Like on Facebook

Category Research

Related topics

Share this story