Honey and silk, a blend of traditional and modern methods, proving effective for wound healing; Credit: Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur (2020)
Honey and silk, a blend of traditional and modern methods, proving effective for wound healing; Credit: Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur (2020)

Honey and silk can help heal wounds without scarring. Researchers in India report on the development in the journal Materialia.

“We came up with the idea of using honey to overcome problems including irritation, inflammation and scarring during wound healing,” says first author Monika Rajput of the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur. She explains that honey has been used to assist wound healing since medieval times. It has since been established to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, among other possible benefits.

The researchers turned to another natural material, silk, to obtain the protein called fibroin to build a porous scaffolding that would carry the honey within a composite wound dressing. The blend of traditional and modern methods begins with the chemical extraction of the silk fibroin protein from cocoons of the domestic silk moth, Bombyx mori.

The researchers then blend this protein with honey at concentrations varying from 0.1 to 10 percent in a simple process, just requiring mixing and stirring at room temperature for 20 minutes. The samples are then freeze dried to remove much of the water. Finally, a chemical cross-linking reaction creates an interconnected but highly porous structure ready to be washed and applied directly to wounds.

A honey concentration of four per cent gave the best results, and the material has proved to have a much more active role in healing than might have been expected. Initial tests using cultured cells revealed that it actively promotes the adhesion, proliferation and distribution of keratinocyte and fibroblast cells, which create the conditions to support other cells that form healed tissue. This cellular activity includes incorporating the necessary blood vessels, maturation of the dermis layer by synthesis of the protein collagen and reforming the outer epithelial layer of the skin.

These encouraging early results were followed by in vivo tests on full thickness skin wounds in rats, which revealed the greatly desired outcome of scar-free healing, along with the appearance of hair appendages. Tests without honey in the scaffold established that the presence of honey led to a significant improvement in the incorporation of the cells needed to repair wounds and in the overall success of the healing.

Rajput reports that the team were especially fascinated to find that the normal cell maintenance activities – processes known technically as homeostasis – were sustained more effectively in the honey-loaded scaffolds than those without honey or when using alternative existing approaches.

“These results suggest patients suffering from second or third-degree burns or diabetic wounds would benefit from these scaffolds, which also have antibacterial activity, to promote irritation-free and biocompatible scar-free regenerative wound healing,” Rajput concludes. She explains that scars are the main problem with existing dressings used to promote would healing, especially with deep cuts and burns, which can lead to pathological conditions.

The researchers now plan to move their work into clinical trials, which they hope will confirm the potential for an effective and inexpensive way to promote wound healing in basic care settings, without any need for more sophisticated forms of medical intervention.

Article details:

Rajput, M. et al.: “Honey loaded silk fibroin 3D porous scaffold facilitates homeostatic full-thickness wound healing,”Materialia (2020)

Materialia is part of the family of Acta Materialia Inc journals, which also includes Acta Materialia and Scripta Materialia.