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Categories:  Research

Low-intensity vibration may speed healing of chronic wounds

Eileen Weinheimer-Haus and Timothy Koh

Eileen Weinheimer-Haus and Timothy Koh are studying whether low-intensity vibrations can help wounds heal more quickly. The technique is already being tested for bone health. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

Wounds may heal more quickly if exposed to low-intensity vibration, a promising development for the 18 million Americans who have type 2 diabetes — which causes wounds to heal slowly or worsen rapidly.

Timothy Koh, professor of kinesiology and nutrition in the College of Applied Health Sciences, was intrigued by studies at Stony Brook University in New York that used very low-intensity signals to accelerate bone regeneration.

“This technique is already in clinical trials to see if vibration can improve bone health and prevent osteoporosis,” Koh said.

Koh and his colleagues at UIC collaborated with Stefan Judex of Stony Brook to investigate whether the same technique might improve wound healing in diabetes.

The new study, using an experimental mouse model of diabetes, is published online in the journal PLOS One.

The low-amplitude vibrations are barely perceptible to touch.

“It’s more like a buzz than an earthquake,” said Eileen Weinheimer-Haus, postdoctoral fellow in kinesiology and nutrition and first author of the study.

The researchers found that wounds exposed to vibration five times a week for 30 minutes healed more quickly than wounds in mice of a control group.

Wounds exposed to vibration formed more granulation tissue, a type of tissue important early in the wound-healing process. Vibration helped tissue to form new blood vessels — a process called angiogenesis — and led to increased expression of pro-healing growth factors and signaling molecules called chemokines, Weinheimer-Haus said.

The next step is to determine whether the changes the researchers see in cell populations and gene expression at wound sites underlie the observed improvement in healing.

“The exciting thing about this intervention is how easily it could be translated to people,” Koh said. “It’s a procedure that’s non-invasive, doesn’t require any drugs, and is already being tested in human trials to see if it’s protective of bone loss.”

A clinical study is planned in collaboration with William Ennis, director of the Wound Healing Clinic, Koh said.