Chronic skin wounds are the leading cause of nontraumatic foot amputations worldwide and present a significant risk of morbidity and mortality due to the lack of efficient therapies. The intrinsic characteristics of hydrogels allow them to benefit cutaneous healing essentially by supporting a moist environment. This property has long been explored in wound management to aid in autolytic debridement. However, chronic wounds require additional therapeutic features that can be provided by a combination of hydrogels with biochemical mediators or cells, promoting faster and better healing. We survey hydrogel-based approaches with potential to improve the healing of chronic wounds by reviewing their effects as observed in preclinical models. Topics covered include strategies to ablate infection and resolve inflammation, the delivery of bioactive agents to accelerate healing, and tissue engineering approaches for skin regeneration. The article concludes by considering the relevance of treating chronic skin wounds using hydrogel-based strategies.
Currently available substitutes for skin wound healing often result in the formation of nonfunctional neotissue. Thus, urgent care is still needed to promote an effective and complete regeneration. To meet this need, we proposed the assembling of a construct that takes advantage of cell-adhesive gellan gum-hyaluronic acid (GG-HA) spongy-like hydrogels and a powerful cell-machinery obtained from adipose tissue, human adipose stem cells (hASCs), and microvascular endothelial cells (hAMECs). In addition to a cell-adhesive character, GG-HA spongy-like hydrogels overpass limitations of traditional hydrogels, such as reduced physical stability and limited manipulation, due to improved microstructural arrangement characterized by pore wall thickening and increased mean pore size. The proposed constructs combining cellular mediators of the healing process within the spongy-like hydrogels that intend to recapitulate skin matrix aim to promote neoskin vascularization. Stable and off-the-shelf dried GG-HA polymeric networks, rapidly rehydrated at the time of cell seeding then depicting features of both sponges and hydrogels, enabled the natural cell entrapment/encapsulation and attachment supported by cell-polymer interactions. Upon transplantation into mice full-thickness excisional wounds, GG-HA spongy-like hydrogels absorbed the early inflammatory cell infiltrate and led to the formation of a dense granulation tissue. Consequently, spongy-like hydrogel degradation was observed, and progressive wound closure, re-epithelialization, and matrix remodelling was improved in relation to the control condition. More importantly, GG-HA spongy-like hydrogels promoted a superior neovascularization, which was enhanced in the presence of human hAMECs, also found in the formed neovessels. These observations highlight the successful integration of a valuable matrix and prevascularization cues to target angiogenesis/neovascularization in skin full-thickness excisional wounds.
The detailed pathophysiology of diabetic foot ulcers is yet to be established and improved treatments are still required. We propose a strategy that directs inflammation, neovascularization, and neoinnervation of diabetic wounds. Aiming to potentiate a relevant secretome for nerve regeneration, stem cells were precultured in hyaluronic acid-based spongy hydrogels under neurogenic/standard media before transplantation into diabetic mice full-thickness wounds. Acellular spongy hydrogels and empty wounds were used as controls. Re-epithelialization was attained 4 weeks after transplantation independently of the test groups, whereas a thicker and more differentiated epidermis was observed for the cellular spongy hydrogels. A switch from the inflammatory to the proliferative phase of wound healing was revealed for all the experimental groups 2 weeks after injury, but a significantly higher M2(CD163)/M1(CD86) subtype ratio was observed in the neurogenic preconditioned group that also failed to promote neoinnervation. A higher number of intraepidermal nerve fibers were observed for the unconditioned group probably due to a more controlled transition from the inflammatory to the proliferative phase. Overall, stem cell-containing spongy hydrogels represent a promising approach to enhance diabetic wound healing by positively impacting re-epithelialization and by modulating the inflammatory response to promote a successful neoinnervation.
Neovascularization has been a major challenge in many tissue regeneration strategies. Hyaluronic acid (HA) of 3-25 disaccharides is known to be angiogenic due to its interaction with endothelial cell receptors. This effect has been explored with HA-based structures but a transitory response is observed due to HA burst biodegradation. Herein we developed gellan gum (GG)-HA spongy-like hydrogels from semi-interpenetrating network hydrogels with different HA amounts. Enzymatic degradation was more evident in the GG-HA with high HA amount due to their lower mechanical stability, also resulting from the degradation itself, which facilitated the access of the enzyme to the HA in the bulk. GG-HA spongy-like hydrogels hyaluronidase-mediated degradation lead to the release of HA oligosaccharides of different amounts and sizes in a HA content-dependent manner which promoted in vitro proliferation of human umbilical cord vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) but not their migration. Although no effect was observed in human dermal microvascular endothelial cells (hDMECs) in vitro, the implantation of GG-HA spongy-like hydrogels in an ischemic hind limb mice model promoted neovascularization in a material-dependent manner, consistent with the in vitro degradation profile. Overall, GG-HA spongy-like hydrogels with a sustained release of HA oligomers are valuable options to improve tissue vascularization, a critical issue in several applications in the tissue engineering and regenerative medicine field.
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