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Non-invasive, electric pulse technique may minimize burn scars

A newly developed technique using short duration, pulsed electric fields may help prevent the formation of burn-related hypertropic scars by inhibiting excess proliferation of collagen cells.

Published online ahead of print in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology (July 5, 2016), the technique, called partial irreversible electroporation (pIRE), uses high-voltage, non-thermal electric pulses to damage collagen cells in the wound so they are unable to proliferate and form scar tissue. The authors note that a balance needs to be found so that scar formation is inhibited but the electric pulses do not simply create an additional wound.

The investigators tested the technique in a rodent model, treating the animals’ contact burn injuries with various parameters. They found that 200 pulses of 250 V and 70 μs duration, delivered at 3 Hz every 20 days in five sessions over a period of six months resulted in a 57.9% reduction in scar area in the treated scars vs. untreated scars. As well, structural features in the treated skin approached that of unburned skin.

“Surgical excision, laser therapy, electron-beam irradiation, mechanical compression dressing, silicone sheet application and other techniques have been tested to treat scars over the years,” said study author Dr. Alexander Golberg of Tel Aviv University’s Porter School of Environmental Studies, in a press release, “but there have been only modest improvements in the healing outcomes among all these treatments.

“Scarring is a very complex process, involving inflammation and metabolism,” said Dr. Golberg. “We have found a way to partially prevent scar formation in animal models. Next we need to raise funding to develop a device for the clinical study on humans.”

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