A compound derived from the sap of the blushwood tree was found to improve wound healing in mice and dairy calves
14 September 2022
A new antimicrobial drug derived from the sap of an Australian tree has shown promise for treating chronic wounds in animal tests.
Chronic wounds are common in people with diabetes, because poor circulation and other symptoms slow down wound healing. It is estimated that 7 per cent of the adult population in the UK have chronic wounds, and diabetic foot ulcers, a type of chronic wound, affect more than a quarter of people with diabetes. Such wounds are painful and have a high risk of infection.
They are mainly treated by keeping the wound clean and using antibiotics to kill any bacterial infections. But doctors increasingly want to reduce the use of antibiotics to minimise the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
In the hunt for alternatives, David Thomas at Cardiff University in the UK and his colleagues investigated compounds derived from the sap of the blushwood tree (Fontainea picrosperma), which grows in Australia. Researchers have previously studied compounds derived from this sap as potential cancer treatments.
Thomas and his colleagues looked at a range of compounds and identified a molecule called EBC-1013 as a promising candidate. They tested a gel containing EBC-1013 in two animals: dairy calves and mice used to model diabetes, with chronic wounds. All dairy calves have their horns taken off, so the researchers applied the treatment to this wound.
In the calves treated with EBC-1013, 75 per cent of the wounds healed after 28 days, compared with just 25 per cent of untreated wounds. In the mice, complete wound healing was observed in five of the seven animals studied, whereas none of the seven wounds healed in the control group.
The researchers think the drug works in two primary ways: by targeting bacterial communities in the wound and inducing skin healing.
Bacteria in wounds form a sticky mesh called a biofilm. These aggregations are resistant to antibiotics, making chronic wounds difficult to treat. The new treatment disrupts the structure of the biofilm, and was also found to induce the production of inflammatory cells and proteins.
The drug could be used by itself or in conjunction with antibiotics, at a lower dose than they are currently used, says Thomas, who is planning to test it in clinical trials.
Experimental drugs for chronic wounds often fail in human trials because many people affected are older and have other confounding health issues.
“It is exciting to find a single active compound that appears to both disrupt wound biofilms and directly promote wound healing, while potentially by-passing antimicrobial resistance,” says Matthew Hardman at the University of Hull, UK. “The next challenge will be to show that these preclinical findings translate into the clinic, and that they can be developed into a safe and cost-effective treatment for chronic, non-healing wounds.”
Journal reference: Science Translational Medicine, DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abn3758
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