Is it possible to stop burn scars before they form, or stop internal bleeding before it becomes a matter of life and death?
Those are two of the potential scientific breakthroughs announced during the first two days at the 252nd American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting & Exposition.
More than 9,000 presentations on a variety of topics are being presented at the meeting, which lasts until Thursday.
Treatments for scars
On Sunday, scientists unveiled new compounds that could potentially prevent burn scars from forming.
There are tens of thousands of burn victims in the United States every year, some of whom suffer from untreatable scars and, in severe cases, disfigurement.
"The treatment we're developing is focused on the major needs of patients with burns, keloids, and Dupuytren’s contracture, a hand deformity," said Dr. Swaminathan Iyer, a hematologist at Houston Methodist Hospital and St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, in a press statement. "These patients have extensive scarring, which can impair their movements. There are no current treatments available for them, and we want to change this.”
According to Iyer, about 250,000 U.S. patients undergo surgical treatment annually for keloids, which are firm, overgrown scars, as well as other types of excessive scarring.
RTI International has found that an estimated 7 percent of Americans have Dupuytren’s contracture, a hand condition that develops when the connective tissue under the palm's skin contracts and toughens over time.
Iyer and colleagues at the University of Western Australia, Fiona Wood Foundation, and Royal Perth Hospital Burns Unit, together with Pharmaxis Ltd., are studying compounds that inhibit an enzyme called lysyl oxidase (LOX).
Iyer explained that LOX enables the collagen involved in wound healing to cross-link during scar formation. This bonding is part of the fundamental biochemical process leading to scar formation.
"During the scarring process, the normal architecture is never restored, leaving the new tissue functionally compromised," said Iyer. "So our goal is to stop the scar from the beginning by inhibiting LOX.”
The researchers tested their molecules using a “Scar-in-a-Jar” model, a technique that mimics scar formation by culturing human fibroblasts from scar tissues in a petri dish. As they would in a real injury, the cells overproduce and secrete collagen.
The researchers then add LOX inhibitors to cultures from patients with Dupuytren's contracture, keloids, and other scar tissue.
"The preliminary data strongly suggest that LOX inhibition alters the collagen architecture, and restores it to the normal architecture found in the skin," Iyer explained. "Once the in vitro validation has been done, the efficacy of these compounds will be tested in pig and mouse models. Depending on the success of the animal studies and optimal drug candidate efficacy, human trials could be undertaken in a few years.”
While the researchers' primary goal is to help patients with severe or extensive scarring, Iyer explained that the inhibitors could potentially be used for cosmetic purposes as well.
Stop the bleeding
On Monday, a similar study was presented that uses nanoparticles to speed up blood clotting, a process that can potentially save lives.
Currently, only intricate surgery can stop internal bleeding, but researchers have now developed nanoparticles that congregate wherever an injury occurs in the body to help it form blood clots.
"Compared to injuries that aren't treated with the nanoparticles, we can cut bleeding time in half and reduce total blood loss,” said Erin B. Lavik, Sc.D., a professor of chemical, biochemical, and environmental engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), in a press statement.
Lavik and her team of researchers have developed a nanoparticle that acts as a bridge, binding to activated platelets and helping them join together to form clots. The nanoparticle is decorated with a molecule that sticks to a glycoprotein found only on the activated platelets.
To allow this material to be stored in a hot ambulance or on a scorching battlefield, Lavik also developed nanoparticles that are stable at higher temperatures, up to 122°F (50°C).
Additionally, Lavik plans to identify critical safety studies to move the research forward to be sure that the nanoparticles do not cause nonspecific clotting, which could lead to a stroke. Lavik is confident, however, they can develop a useful clinical product in the next 5 to 10 years.
"When you have uncontrolled internal bleeding, that's when these particles could really make a difference," said Lavik.