Recent findings suggest that electrical stimulation can increase the permeability of blood vessels, potentially representing a means of speeding wound healing.
Published in the journal Lab on a Chip (2021; 21:319-330), the findings come from a series of laboratory tests performed using human cells in a 3D microfluidic model of a bifurcating blood vessel. Using this model, the investigators observed that stimulating blood vessels with electricity resulted in a marked increase in blood vessel permeability, which they say is a physical marker suggestive of possible new vessel growth.
“There was this speculation that blood vessels could grow better if you stimulated them electrically,” said Shaurya Prakash, PhD, in a press release from The Ohio State University in Columbus. “And we found that the response of the cells in our blood vessel models shows significant promise towards changing the permeability of the vessels that can have positive outcomes for our ongoing work in wound healing.”
Dr. Prakash is the senior author of the study and associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at The Ohio State University.
In the release, Dr. Prakash noted that their initial findings of improved blood vessel permeability were exciting, but “the next phase of the work will require us to study if and how we can actually grow new vessels.”
Jon Song, PhD, co-author of the paper and associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State, said the results imply that one of the primary ways blood vessels work to heal injuries is by allowing molecules and cells to move across the vessel walls.
“And now we have better understanding for how electric stimulation can change the permeability across the vessel walls,” he said. “Let’s say you have a cutaneous wound, like a paper cut, and your blood vessels are severed and that’s why you have blood leaking out. What you need is a bunch of bloodborne cells to come to that place and exit out the blood vessel to initiate the wound repair.”
The study suggested that changes in blood vessel permeability could deliver bloodborne cells to a wound site more quickly, though it did not explain the reasons why that happened, according to the release. The findings by Dr. Prakash and colleagues seemed to indicate that electricity affected the proteins that hold blood vessel cells together, but those results were not conclusive.
This work builds on that of a broader team, led by Dr. Prakash, that previously showed electric bandages could help stimulate healing in wounded dogs. That research also suggested that electrical stimulation might also help manage infections at wound sites.