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  5. Wound-dressing idea enters international business-plan competition

Wound-dressing idea enters international business-plan competition

Having been selected from 78 competitors from around the world, two University of Wisconsin-Madison students will travel to London for the finals of the LES (Licensing Executives Society) Foundation international business plan competition, held June 4.

The UW-Madison business plan concerns an advanced wound dressing, containing ultra-fine silver particles, that is intended to help heal persistent wounds due to diabetes, burns or other causes. Silver has antibacterial properties, but current silver dressings are also harmful to regenerating skin cells, says plan author Ankit Agarwal, a postdoctoral fellow in chemical and biological engineering.

The polymer dressing would use only 1 percent as much silver as other silver antibacterial dressings and could remain in contact with the wound for a longer time, reducing painful dressing changes.

The proposal bested others from Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale and prestigious foreign universities, says Agarwal, who has worked with Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor Nicholas Abbott to develop a simple way to embed silver into polymer films thin enough to be applied with a rubber stamp.

Agarwal and Kyle Nakatsuji, a third-year law student who consulted on the business plan, will have an all-expenses-paid trip to London, where the winner of the $10,000 prize will be chosen from the six finalists.

"Our pitch is pretty simple," says Agarwal. "This dressing can prevent infection, promote cell growth and be easy on the skin."

Every year, more than 8 million Americans seek hospital care for burns or chronic wounds, Agarwal says. "These wounds can take months to heal and require aggressive management to prevent infection. The standard of care requires frequent and painful dressing changes. Our proposal uses technology developed by Nicholas Abbott — an ultra-thin, antibacterial, polymer film that is embedded with a nontoxic level of silver so it can be emplaced for prolonged periods."

The technology has been tested in animals, and if all goes well, Agarwal says his startup company, ImBed Biosciences, could apply to the Food and Drug Administration for permission to engage in clinical trials within a year.

One promising route into the marketplace could come via biological wound dressings, which incorporate proteins that speed healing—but also stimulate the growth of bacteria, Agarwal says.

To people who lack firsthand experience, wound healing may seem like a problem that has been solved, he adds. "But one of our collaborators, Dr. Michael Schurr, at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, sees small kids with large burns. He likes to put on a biological dressing and send the patient home, but those who get infections have to return to the hospital. Incorporating our silver nanoparticle films in these dressings could speed healing and save kids from that kind of trauma."

David Tenenbaum