The dramatic rise in the number of people with chronic wounds – a common side effect of diabetes, obesity, vascular and autoimmune diseases – is now costing the Australian taxpayer more than $3 billion each year.
Rising antimicrobial resistance is increasing infection rates, compounding the problems faced by vulnerable patients and creating serious challenges for medical teams worldwide.
According to Wounds Australia, more than 420,000 people suffer from chronic wounds in Australia, . Individuals – mostly pensioners and retirees – also face out-of-pocket expenses exceeding $4000.
University of South Australia regenerative medicine researcher Dr Xanthe Strudwick is among a growing body of scientists tackling this health crisis with new, cutting-edge technology.
Dr Strudwick, recently named a 2023 SA Young Tall Poppy of Science, is working with a team of researchers at UniSA’s Future Industries Institute to investigate why some wounds don’t heal and why others that do, form deep scars.
A fresh approach
The early career researcher says there are currently no effective diagnostic tools to predict whether a patient will develop a chronic wound or suffer from excessive scarring.
‘My research takes a two-pronged approach to improve burn and diabetic healing, understanding the fundamental biology and proteins responsible for impaired healing and scar formation and, in collaboration with physicists and chemists, developing advanced wound dressings and technologies to treat infected wounds,’ said Dr Strudwick.
‘A protein called Flightless I (Flii) is present in high amounts in both burns and diabetic patients and seems to impair healing as well as form scars. We need to work out how to reduce the levels of this protein at the same time as developing advanced hydrogel dressings that can deliver antimicrobials and oxygen to successfully treat infected wounds,’ she said.
‘Ideally, we would like to reach a state where wounds completely heal and where the restored skin appears identical to and works as well as the original. Sadly, we don’t have treatments which enable this right now but hopefully in the future we will.’
Dr Strudwick is one of eight outstanding early career researchers who will be officially named South Australian 2023 Young Tall Poppies of Science at an event hosted by the SA Museum this Friday.
Check out a video explaining Dr Strudwick’s research below: