Healing Wounds With The Power Of Electricity

Once upon a time, even a simple cut or scrape could be a death sentence. Before germ theory and today’s scientific understanding of medicine, infections ran rampant and took many lives.

While we’re now well-armed with disinfectants, dressings, and antibiotics, scientists are continuing to investigate new and unique methods to improve the treatment of wounds. As it turns out, a little electricity might actually help wounds heal faster.


The bandages come in two designs for treating circular or linear wounds. Credit: Research paper

Past research has found that the application of electric current may actually assist in the wound healing process. In a paper published in 2003, researchers found that wound healing was sped up by anywhere from 13-50% by the application of an electrical field to the area. A variety of trials have found success in this area, using a variety of different methods of electrical stimulation, along with different polarities and field strengths in the vicinity of the wound.

The causative factor seems to center around the response of human keratinocytes to electrical stimulation. These skin cells may have their migration guided or directed by the electric field, in concert with the presence of certain growth factors in the area.

Thus far, most studies have required the use of expensive research equipment to apply the electric field to wound areas. Recent research from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China has aimed to take the principle and use it in a more practical fashion.

The research has involved the creation of electrically-active wound dressings that could be applied with similar ease to typical adhesive bandages. Speaking to New Scientist, lead researcher Guang Yao notes that “Non-invasive, efficient, cost-effective and convenient approaches are always desired for treating skin wounds.”

The new dressings apply an electrostatic field to the wound site, with the negative electrode directly over the wound, and a positive electrode surrounding the area. The shape memory alloy layer also helps squeeze the wound closed. Credit: Research paper

As designed by the research team, the dressing consists of four layers. The first layer consists of an electrically-charged polytetrafluoroethylene plastic, which can generate an electrostatic field when placed into contact with the skin. The second layer is a flexible silicone rubber, while the third layer features a shape memory alloy. This layer helps push the wound closed to further aid the healing process, and is triggered into action by skin temperature. A final layer of flexible gel sits on top.

Notably, the electromechanical synergistic dressings, as they are known, were made in two versions. An EMSD-L, for linear wounds, features a rectangular negative electrode and a rectangular ring positive electrode around the outside. Meanwhile, the EMSD-C, for circular wounds, features a circular negative electrode and corresponding circular ring positive electrode on the outside.

The dressings were applied to 50 rats in testing. Each was given either a linear wound of 10 mm long, or a circular wound of 8 mm diameter. For control purposes, some rats were given the new dressings, while others were given conventional dressings or no dressing whatsoever. The electric dressings performed the best, with circular wounds 96.8% closed after eight days. This compares to around 75% closed for the standard dressings, and just 45.9% for those rats with undressed wounds. Results from the straight wound group were similarly in favor of the new dressing design.

Yao notes that the team hopes to produce to suit a wide variety of wound types. “We are optimising the design of devices for more shaped wounds, including irregular shapes,” he says. Human trials are also on the cards down the line.

Early results are positive and it seems there really is something to it when it comes to giving wounds a little bit of a charge to help them heal faster. While you could use them on a simple papercut, their true value may be in more serious medical settings. Wound management is its own whole branch of medicine, and it can be complicated by any number of things, from bacteria to unique genetic condtions. Helping wounds close with a little bit of static electricity could make a serious difference for huge numbers of patients around the world.

36 thoughts on “Healing Wounds With The Power Of Electricity

  1. This sounds interesting and promising. However, it would have been nice to see a trial group consisting of the same electrical bandage, but electrically neutral. It’s possible that the physical design of the bandage, such as the memory metal was what helped, and not the electric field. Perhaps that’s planned for future trials?

    1. Given the multiple layers of the device, there is certainly room for speculation on the mechanism. But the figure 4 compares the entire device to one with just the mechanical or just the electret components (or an untreated control). There is some synergy presented.

  2. Electrostatic fields get screened within a few nm in wet environments with ions present (electrolytes), so it’s not clear if the electrostatic field could have any effect here. If you want an electric field inside a conductor, you need to have flowing current.
    The authors clearly failed to understand that, as they used FEM to simulate the electric field, where they modeled the wound as “electrostatic saltwater solution (…) with the permittivity of 81 to simulate tissues and body fluids” – so, they just assumed the body electrolytes are fully dielectric and that there are no ions present. This is just bad, bad science. Science advances is a respected journal, so not sure how this went past peer review.
    Having said that, the potential can be mapped and measured, and the electric field calculated from the measurements.

    My guess is the observed effect comes from the mechanical properties of the band-aid.

    1. I don’t know what you’re trying to say, but a saltwater solution has plenty of ions and is not fully dielectric or every remotely close to dielectric.

      Your guess, which is based entirely on speculations after reading an article about a scientific study, is bad science.

      1. Dear Steven,

        First of all, I did read the original scientific article and I checked their results, so in this case your guess was based entirely on speculations :D

        I’m trying to say exactly what you said – that saltwater solution has plenty of ions and that any external electrostatic field will get screened within several nanometers in the electrolytic double layer, and past the Debye length in the bulk of the liquid there will be zero electric field. The results of the model in the study, where electric field extends for several millimeters, confirm that the authors modeled salt water as a dielectric without mobile charge carriers (as stated in the experimental section in the study), which is a major error in thinking.
        Unfortunately, I saw this error made many times, and I try to react whenever I can.

      1. Finite element method pretty much uses your assumption, it’s just that here the authors decided to model the ionic solution with infinite resistors having a dielectric constant of water. You can model your salt water as a conductor, not a dielectric and that’s it. There will be no electrostatic field inside the conductor.

    2. They have 50 rats, so only a third of them are using the new band-aid (~16). Yet they claim that 96.8% of those having this band aid recovered completely. That’s just mathematically impossible, since you can’t have 96.8% with a any fraction those denominator is 16.

      Since the number are lies, there’s a high probability that the rest of the paper is also a lie.

    1. I read “The Body Electric” back in the day. It was quite a while ago so it’s a little fuzzy, but I’m sometimes surprised when I read about a “new” development that reminds me of something from the book.

      In this case, this reminds of a section talking about experiments using small electric fields to heal wounds that refuse to heal naturally, or was it magnetic fields.

      1. time varying magnetic fields were used to induce the necessary micro-current deeper within tissue without the nuisance of electrode-skin impedance matching and associated irritation.
        I have Studied the Becker books and built many variants based on his theories. They do indeed work and the applications are broad depending on how it is delivered. From what I have observed, it takes several decades to move from ridicule to obvious truth

    2. Let me 2nd this recommendation. The book describes, among other things, success in the healing of bone fractures that would not otherwise knit and, in rats, amputated limbs that were successfuly re-grown, but for fingers.

      The author was also one of the first to suggest the possible bad effects to biology of time-varying E and H fields. If memory serves me, he had special concerns about the electromagnetic waveforms produced in proximity to CRT displays.

    3. > can assist … in creating ,,, bone

      ^^ made me skeptical so I looked Dr Becker up on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_O._Becker (+ the discussion page) and it seems that none of his results were ever replicated (by others) in the last 50 years. :-/

      Doesn’t mean his results must be false but the lack of further research (by other scientists) is odd and surprising (sounds interesting enough to me).

      wasn’t fruitful either…

    1. I know where you can sign up to be a rat catcher with associated rat organ preservation post mortem.

      Nobody mentioned the voltage and currents. Crap now I have to experiment

  3. It’s true what they say, one door closes another one opens… All those Lichtenberg (Fractal Burning) transformers getting retired…

    (But seriously, don’t!)

  4. I’ve found something even easier that electric current to help fix smallish wounds – and I too wonder about this study given it just may be their bandage, and not the electrical field.

    I’ve found that if you clean and then seal the wound with one if the polymer sprays, it heals noticeably faster and better (ie less chance of problems) – and I’ve tested this on many wounds (on myself) over decades…

  5. Electric stimulation may be able to help blood vessels carry white blood cells and oxygen to wounds, speeding healing, a new study suggests. Electric stimulation may be able to help blood vessels carry white blood cells and oxygen to wounds, speeding healing, a new study suggests

  6. A couple of possibilities here. Copper dressings have been in use for a long time and tend to increase healing and prevent infections so that is a possibility. Another is that the electrical charge might stimulate circulation to the area. E-Stim systems do work for some injuries but the juries but the jury is still out on why they exactly work.

    1. Silver also… then there’s zinc oxide in a lot of ointments. Need one of those fun quizzes.. Q:element or chemical X, battery chemistry or wound healing staple?

  7. Unfortunately, we can’t rely on the veracity or reliability of a paper nowadays simply because it has been published.
    In fact, the glut of “paper mills” that exist simply to profit off the publishing of “scientific” papers means that MOST papers are now suspect.

    It has been a huge problem in the academic world for at least a decade. And it is made worse by the pressures of a “publish or die” academic environment. It is further exacerbated by people/groups who seek to gain credibility by getting consenting opinions on provably false data published.

    You should have done a bit more research into this topic before publishing an article on a paper that is clearly lacking in scientific rigor.

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