Products by two Hampton Roads organizations are on the cutting edge of wound care.
The nonprofit LifeNet Health in Virginia Beach offers TheraSkin, a graft made of real skin that stimulates your body to heal itself. Soluble Systems of Newport News sells TheraGauze, a covering that regulates the moisture within a wound.
When TheraGauze is used to cover TheraSkin, the two products work together to speed healing of diabetic foot ulcers and other wounds that have trouble healing, said Bud Brame, vice president of tissue services for LifeNet.
"You get accelerated healing rates when the two products work together," Brame said.
TheraSkin is a skin graft made from donated human skin. It resembles a chain-link fence, a pattern that enables the wound to breathe. TheraSkin compels the body to close the wound and heal itself, Brame said.
TheraGauze is made up of a white fabric that's moistened with a polymer mixture. Instead of keeping the wound dry, this bandage keeps it moist. As a result, TheraGauze bandages don't need to be changed as often, lasting two to three days.
"We are the only product on the market that takes moisture out of the wound as needed and puts moisture back into the wound, as needed," said T. Kerry McCarter, Soluble Systems chief executive officer.
Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News has been using TheraGauze since it came out in 2007. It has recently started using TheraSkin, said Cindy Dowd, a registered nurse and manager of the hospital's wound care center.
"TheraSkin and TheraGauze - they're like a package deal, having this tissue seal into place more quickly by creating this nice, warm, moist area to have the body accept the tissue quicker," she said.
The wound care center is using TheraSkin on "everyone we can put it on," Dowd said.
"We're using it on surgical wounds, diabetic wounds, vascular wounds. We're having tremendous success with it," she said. "A wound that has been open for two to three years, I can have closed in less than 12 weeks. Eight to 12 weeks is our average."
The two products are gaining recognition. Soluble this year announced it had received federal funding for a clinical study investigating TheraGauze as a new battlefield wound dressing and antimicrobial release platform, and American Podiatric Medical Association has awarded its Seal of Approval for TheraSkin.
LifeNet Health and Soluble Systems representatives first crossed paths at a Hampton Roads Technology Council meeting. Soluble Systems supplied LifeNet researchers with product samples, and the researchers discovered the wounds healed faster with TheraGauze. A partnership was formed.
Teaming up gave Soluble Systems another product to offer. It gave LifeNet a whole new market to tap into.
"They were in the chronic wound care market, which is not what our organization was focused on," Brame said. "We relied so much on burn patients. This was a new relocation source that we hadn't realized. It was a perfect marriage, another use of donated skin."
LifeNet started distributing TheraSkin in January. It awaits reimbursement approval by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which will provide more access for the products, Brame said.
For LifeNet, a nonprofit organization dedicated to organ and tissue replantation, TheraSkin is the latest in a series of products.
For Soluble Systems, a startup company still a year or two away from turning a profit, TheraSkin increases its offerings from one product to two.
Soluble Systems' origins date to more than 10 years ago when local dentist Guy Levy attempted to address persistent dry mouth. Researchers at Virginia Tech came up with the TheraGauze technology. The dry mouth market was small, but the chronic wound market was wide open. Soluble Systems was born.
But getting the product to catch on hasn't been easy.
"Getting these things into the marketplace is long and difficult, because we're changing the practice," McCarter said. "Doctors are slowly learning that what they learned in medical school is wrong."
Since launching TheraGauze in late 2007, the company has served an estimated 50,000 patients, McCarter said.
"We reduced the number of amputations out there," he said. "We've improved their quality of life."
An estimated 80,000 amputations a year cost the economy $20 billion and reduce life expectancy for diabetics to five years after amputation, McCarter said.
Since teaming with LifeNet, the company is on track to reach a $2 million annual sales pace by the end of the year, McCarter said.
TheraSkin isn't technically for sale, because the sale of human tissue is prohibited by the federal government. LifeNet distributes it, and hospitals reimburse LifeNet, which covers costs, Brame said. It ships out on dry ice with delivery the next morning.
"The potential for this to grow is tremendous," he said.
LifeNet is one of only two tissue banks in the U.S. to offer a skin graft like this. Otherwise, physicians use bioengineered products, such as neonatal human foreskin and bovine collagen, Brame said.
"They're trying to be human skin. We are the human skin," Brame said.
Many VA hospitals are now using it, but until insurance pays for it, others largely won't. Approval is expected by January.
"Most of the wound centers say, 'It's great, it works, but come see me when it's reimbursed,'" Brame said.
TheraSkin is "a small but growing" part of what LifeNet does. LifeNet is the largest organ procurement and tissue recovery agency in the U.S., Brame said.
"We think it's going to be the next big growth phase of our organization," Brame said.
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Skin graft made from donated human skin
Resembles a chain-link fence; pattern enables the wound to breathe
Provides a supply of growth factors and collagen to promote healing
Non-stick, moist, wound-care dressing
Releases or absorbs moisture based on the underlying condition of the wound
Remains moist and active for several days; patients require fewer dressing changesSource: Soluble Systems
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Vivus Inc attempts to bring the first new fat-fighting pill to the U.S. market in more than a decade. Page 11 of NewsCAPTION: The cutting edge of wound careSoluble Systems of Newport News is teaming up with another Hampton Roads organization, the nonprofit LifeNet Health, to improve wound treatment. Above, Soluble Systems' chief executive officer T. Kerry McCarter demonstrates TheraGauze, a covering that regulates moisture in wounds, on his hand. Used with LifeNet's product, TheraSkin, a graft made from donated skin, the treatment promises faster healing from wounds.
Patrice Davis removes a sample of TheraSkin from a freezer to be mailed out. LifeNet Health in Virginia Beach, a nonprofit that processes organs and tissue for reuse, makes the skin grafts to help patients recover from wounds.
A worker at Soluble Systems in Newport News makes TheraGauze, a covering that regulates moisture in wounds.