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Putting Keratin to the Test

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Burn Wound, Scar Healing, Keratin

Putting Keratin to the Test

April 15, 2009
By: Tony Edwards for Scars1

What happens when you have a chronic or burn wound that will not heal? What treatments can you seek if you or someone you know has a rare condition known as epidermolysis bullosa? According to researchers at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, help may be on the way, in the form of a treatment made from a substance called keratin, a key component of skin, nails, hair. Keratin is produced by keratinocytes and helps create a barrier in the skin.

Take Action

Quick Wound Care Tips

  • Treat small cuts or injuries seriously since if left untreated a bigger more chronic problem may arise. Make an appointment to see your doctor if you have a wound that doesn’t improve on its own after a few weeks of self care.
  • Learn how to change your dressings if your doctor gives the OK. A clean wound generally heals faster.
  • Unrestricted blood flow helps wounds heal. To keep the blood flowing, stop smoking and reduce your caffeine intake.
  • Watch out for signs of infection. If a wound or the surrounding skin feels warm to the touch or becomes red or swollen, notify your doctor.
  • While recent studies have shown that keratin can help treat wounds and injuries, more research is needed to find out which injuries, wounds and conditions respond to this new therapy.
    Stephen Davis, MD, Robert Kirsner, MD, and colleagues at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine wanted to find out if a wound dressing, composed of keratin would help heal wounds such as those from burn injuries or chronic wounds. Using a keratin dressing made from New Zealand wool, the researchers measured the healing effects on more than 700 deep, partial thickness wounds in six pigs. Pigs were chosen because of ethical concerns and wound response in pigs “replicates acute partial healing in humans” according to the research. The wounds were treated in one of four ways: untreated and air exposed; a polyurethane film (PF); a solid keratin material covered with PF and a liquid keratin material covered with PF.
    The wounds were checked every day, and measured starting on the third day after treatment. Not unexpectedly, all the wounds in the three treated groups healed faster than the untreated ones. However, by days 5 and 6 of the study, the wounds treated with the solid keratin material had healed deeper and faster than the wounds treated with PF alone.
    By day 6, more of the wounds treated with the liquid keratin material had completely healed compared with wounds treated with PF. Overall the researchers concluded that both of the keratin materials expedited healing compared with the other methods tested.
    Davis’ colleague, Robert Kirsner, MD, conducted a small study (two patients) on the effects of a gel made of keratin on epidermolysis bullosa, a rare skin condition. In this study, one patient applied the gel to one foot, with the other foot left untreated for comparison. In the treated foot, this patient had a reduction in new blister formation and less pain. The second patient had the gel applied to an area of the neck that was difficult to reach. Over the next week, there were fewer blisters and less pain when the dressing was changed. While blisters did return over the following months, they returned less frequently and healed more quickly.
    The results of both studies suggest that keratin-based treatments may be coming soon to a doctor's office near you.
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