Vascular network (in white) formed following wound treatment with adipose tissue cells (in green and red)

Latest finding: a new, regenerative medical therapy for difficult wounds

When fat is not harmful.

Trieste, Italy 11 February 2023 – A close collaboration between scientific institutes and companies in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia Region has produced promising results in the treatment of difficult wounds.

A new advanced therapy for the effective resolution of difficult wounds has been published in the Nature group journal npj Regenerative Medicine. The study has shown how certain fat cells, named Stromal Vascular Fraction or SVF, are able to promote the formation of new blood vessels at the wound level, with important acceleration of healing time.

Difficult wounds are extremely painful skin lesions that do not heal, and in fact worsen over time. This is caused by the coexistence of underlying chronic diseases, primarily diabetes and peripheral arterial disease, which do not allow adequate vascularization of the wound, which is necessary to ensure sufficient oxygen and nutrient supply, and thus healing.

This is a common condition in people over 60, at least as common as heart failure, with major limitations in daily activities.

The economic implications are important. About 3 percent of the global health budget is spent on the care of difficult wounds, which require specialized and expensive therapies: in Italy, more than 3 billion euros per year. Added to this is the reduction in the patient’s ability to work and the sometimes constant need for health care.

This research, led by Serena Zacchigna, head of the Cardiovascular Biology Laboratory at the ICGE) and professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Trieste, was made possible by the PREFER project-Development of a Biocompatible PRoduct for the tErapy of Difficult FERites, funded by the 2014-2020 European Regional Development Fund Operational Program of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. In addition to ICGEB and UNITS, two regional companies, Zeta Research and Vivabiocell, led the project.
“Currently available therapies are based on the application of skin substitutes to promote wound healing,” Zacchigna explains, “However, their effectiveness is limited by the inadequate vascularization that usually underlies this disease. How does this new therapy work? “We took cells derived from the patients’ adipose tissue and applied them to the wound bed. After a few days, we observed the formation of a new vascular network, functional and connected with the pre-existing vessels.”
“Restoring adequate blood supply to the wound is critical to support healing of the skin lesion,” continues Giovanni Papa, UNITS professor and Director of the Plastic Surgery Unit of the Azienda Sanitaria Universitaria Giuliano Isontina (ASUGI), which provided the cells and enabled validation of the efficacy.

Collaboration between academia and business enabled this first milestone toward better care and quality of life for people with difficult wounds. Crucial to this journey was the participation of VivaBioCell, a leading manufacturer of bioreactors for cell therapies, which brought its industrial expertise and ability to transform research results into implementable solutions in a clinical reality.
“The joint work between us academic researchers, hospital clinicians and the industrial research and development department was essential to define concrete goals that were compatible with the needs of the industrial scaling-up process,” says Roman Vuerich, first author of the paper and a doctoral student at UNITS and ICGEB. “This project was an example of how the synergy between academia and business can lead to concrete solutions to public health challenges.”
“We are confident that this collaboration can continue in the future to bring an advanced therapy product to patients and serve as a beacon to promote other collaborative projects between research centers, hospitals and industry. Only through funding that supports the synergy between these entities will we be able to ensure that research results reach patients and that this can also happen in Italy,” Zacchigna and Papa concluded in unison.

Link to the paper.