If you look up the term “hydrogel” in a medical dictionary, you’ll probably find a definition that runs something like this: “A three-dimensional cross-linked network of water-soluble polymers capable of numerous chemical configurations.” Although strictly speaking, this is accurate, it is still a pretty “dry” description for something that involves liquids! But when it comes to wound dressings, the fact is that hydrogels are worth getting excited about as a rapidly developing technology.

Why the need for innovation? Because wound care patients and their doctors are painfully aware of the shortcomings of traditional wound dressings. Some can adhere to the wound bed or be difficult to remove. Some have an odor can that be mistaken for infection. And some may leave a residue in the wound bed.

In contrast, hydrogel dressings are designed to rehydrate the wound bed and reduce wound pain. They can be used on infected wounds and with topical medications. These dressings also promote autolytic debridement. Finally, because they are nonadherent, hydrogel dressings are easy to remove and can be changed frequently.

At Alliqua, Inc., where I serve as VP Operations, we are focusing on hydrogels, and have harnessed them in two wound dressings known as SilverSeal and Hydress. SilverSeal is a flexible, sterile, non-adherent hydrogel dressing that incorporates the antimicrobial properties of metallic silver-coated fiber. Hydress, although not silver-based, mirrors the flexibility, sterility, and non-adherent properties of SilverSeal, and can similarly absorb up to twice its weight in wound exudate.

Our hydrogels are manufactured by introducing a hydrophilic polymer, which is a polymer that has a tendency to mix with or dissolve in water, into water to create a feed mix. The feed mix is then coated on to a liner and exposed to radiation. The polymers we use, when exposed to radiation, cross-link faster than they degrade, creating a matrix that gives the gels a solid form. Active ingredients such as prescription or over-the-counter medication, skin care ingredients or wound-healing or other materials can be added before or after cross-linking. Materials that do not survive the irradiation process, or are modified by such process, are added after the cross-linking process is completed. Once the products have been mixed and cross-linked, they form sheets that can either be delivered directly to customers or first cut and shaped according to customer or our specifications, as appropriate.

I am very excited about what hydrogels have to offer wound care patients and their healthcare providers. As their advantages become better known, I think it’s a safe bet they will grow steadily in popularity.

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