Collagen has important applications in medical applications for the healing of wounds. Chronic, non-healing wounds include diabetic foot ulcers and pressure ulcers (Frykburg & Banks, 2015). An estimated 6.5 million people suffer from chronic wounds in the United States, and they must rely on medical procedures for effective healing (Sen, Gordillo, Roy, Kirsner, Lambert, Hunt, Gottrup, Gurtner, & Longaker, 2004). Many patients, however, have to deal with the financial burden, as many current treatment options are expensive, ineffective, and inconvenient. To improve the current standards, engineers must face the technological challenge of selecting strong, nontoxic, biocompatible, and effective wound healing biomaterials; this is where collagen comes in.
Collagen, a naturally-occurring matrix polymer, embodies the desired characteristics for an improved medical device, and also provides an effective treatment for non-healing wounds. Since chronic wounds have excess matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which degrade both viable and nonviable collagen used in the wound healing process (Ruszczack, 2003), providing a collagen-based wound scaffold compensates for the loss of collagen required for proper tissue regeneration (Tamariz & Grinnel, 2002). Engineers can vary collagen’s density, packing, and orientation to produce various mechanical properties for a wide range of medical applications. Depending on its processing, collagen may have some limitations, including altered cell growth or movement, the consequential development of adverse mechanical properties, and/or polymer shrinkage (Cuy, 2004). However, combining collagen with synthetic and/or biological materials alters collagen interactions with the skin and eliminates undesired limitations (Cuy, 2004), ultimately making the material a -- theoretically -- useful means for effective wound care.
The applications of collagens in wound healing are immense. As collagen has been found to have a bulk density of 0.01 to 0.3 g/cm3 (Ksander & Ogawa, 1988), an implant can be small and unobstructive to the patient. Due to the low bulk density, patient comfort can be maximized, while effectively facilitating the growth of connective tissue and angiogenesis. The structure of collagen also lends to its efficacy, namely the development of many of its properties, such as adhesiveness, density, and toughness. Collagen can be processed and derived from various animals. Due to its material properties, relative abundance, and apparent effectiveness, collagen has the potential to be utilized as an unprecedented treatment protocol for chronic, slow-healing wounds.
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