Building a Better Bandage

A collaboration between Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Penn State's College of Medicine is changing the way trauma wounds are treated.

As anyone who has tried to pull traditional bandages made of cotton gauze off of a healing wound will attest, they stick, and when they finally separate, the wound often is torn open. A team of Penn State researchers from the college of agricultural sciences and the college of medicine have developed a biofoam pad that could replace these cotton bandages and revolutionize wound treatment. This biofoam could be useful in treating wounds in surgical, military, veterinary and countless other settings.

a small pile of biofoam; white chunks

Biofoam. Image: Michelle Bixby

Jeffrey Catchmark, professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences and collaborator, Dr. Scott Armen, chief of the Division of Trauma, Acute Care and Critical Care Surgery at the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center are working to commercialize their patent-pending biofoam pad, made from a combination of starch from potatoes and chitosan from shellfish, for wound and trauma care.

“Because Penn State has an outstanding culture of interdisciplinary research engineers, scientists and medical doctors can work together here effortlessly," said Catchmark. "Penn State understands and supports interdisciplinary collaboration. It is simply the most effective path toward discovery.”

"Penn State understands and supports interdisciplinary collaboration. It is simply the most effective path toward discovery.”

The team hopes to produce a portable pack of the biofoam in a variety of shapes to quickly stabilize any number of wounds. The pack could be easily carried and used in the field by emergency responders and military medics.

The unique foam material absorbs blood and body fluids, expands to put pressure on a wound, conforms to the wound’s shape and doesn’t stick to tissue. Once applied, the foam’s surface transitions to a gel that promotes healing and can be left inside the body. The foam can be placed within traumatic wounds like gunshots and shrapnel cuts to stop bleeding and stabilize the area until the patient can be taken to a medical facility.

"After the wound is healed and you remove the bandage, some of that gauze might be embedded in the tissue. If you pull at the gauze, it disturbs the healing tissue. Ideally, you'd like to have a material that facilitates the healing process but also vanishes,” Catchmark said. "One of the reasons that this approach works is because the bio-absorbable material degrades into glucose. The glucose just becomes a part of the sugars in the blood stream." 

At this time, the material is still in development and more research is needed on its effectiveness.

“We are hopeful that it will become an important product in the wound treatment space in the future,” said Catchmark.