Scientists at Newcastle University have developed plasters that contain a layer of human stem cells that can help skin heal at a faster rate.
Using a new technique involving seaweed, stem cells are encased in an alginate gel that allows them to be easily applied to skin and stored at room temperature.
Until now, stem cells have had to be stored and handled by experts under specialised environmental conditions which limits their practical use as a healthcare aid
However, the alginate gel allows the cells to remain active at normal room temperatures and conditions for up to three days. The gel is made from seaweed and is therefore a low-cost solution to extending the life of the cells.
A number of earlier research projects have produced promising evidence that shows stem cells from fatty tissues can be used to improve wound healing by reducing inflammation and speeding up wound closure.
When applied to a plaster, the cells could help people suffering from various skin ailments by increasing the rate at which the skin repairs itself.
Che Connon, professor of tissue engineering at Newcastle University, said: "The stem cells are surrounded by an alginate gel which protects them from the environment - a bit like frogspawn.
"We found them unchanged even after three days at room temperature. This has lots of advantages and applications.
"For example, we have used them to make a bandage which contains human stem cells which could be applied to a wound such as an ulcer or burn to speed up the healing process."
Bandages with stem cells could be used by paramedics at the scene of an accident or by army medics on the battlefield.
Some of the funding for the work has come from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, which is part of the Ministry of Defence.
Explaining how the process works, the University’s Dr Stephen Swioklo said: "The stem cells are grown from the standard frozen form and then mixed into the alginate solution. This is extracted from a type of brown algae, a seaweed commonly used in food and medical applications.
"This can either be dropped into a vial of calcium chloride which forms cross-links making the alginate set, forming tiny beads. Or the gel can be placed into a mould to form a film which sets in a couple of minutes. We have used this to make plasters and bandages.
"One circular disc just an inch diameter was demonstrated in our study to effectively preserve a million stem cells and could easily contain up to 10 million."