Using ultrasound on skin wounds, which are a common problem for those with diabetes, can speed healing, according to a new study. Faster healing could help prevent the need for amputations.
In his study, involving animals, the ultrasound reduced healing time by 30 percent. "That's a substantial effect," Bass said.
In people, that accelerated healing time could translate to being immobilized for four weeks of recovery instead of six weeks, for instance, he said. The study is published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
When Bass and his team used low-intensity ultrasound on wounds in mice, the treatment restored healing rates to those found in young, healthy animals. "It effectively turned back the clock," Bass says.
"What the device is doing is waking up cells that have stopped responding," he says. "Cells that should normally be moving to stop the hole in your skin have stopped moving. The ultrasound wakes them up again. It starts them moving."
The technique simply encourages your body to do ''what it should do naturally but it has lost the ability [to do],'' he says.
Other researchers have looked at ultrasound to speed wound healing. In one study, researchers from Stanford University conducted another study in animals, applying ultrasound to some excised wounds three times a week and performing standard care of changing the dressing on others.
Ultrasound accelerated wound healing, with wounds closing in 17 days compared to 24 in the group getting only dressing changes.
While many ultrasound therapies are in practice already, they rely on different strengths and frequencies, Bass says. The ultrasound treatment of wounds needs to be tested in people, and Bass' team is recruiting patients now for that study.
While the study proved the effectiveness of the ultrasound, Bass said they need to explore the ultrasound signal used. It's possible, he says, that ''by refining the treatment we could improve the effects even further."
If clinical trials go well, the technique might be available for general use in two or three years, he says.
He envisions combining the ultrasound with antimicrobial therapies to treat the infection that can accompany skin wounds. The combination approach will ideally attack both problems, he says, including the infection and the slow healing.
Currently, experts say that ultrasound has insufficient evidence to recommend it for wound healing at this time.