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Research: Natural Wound Dressings

News Story

Professor JaimeLee Rizzo, PhD, and Julia Fatum, are experimenting with Manuka honey, aloe vera gel, and essential oils to create a natural and effective antibacterial remedy.

Although big-budget Hollywood action movies sometimes suggest otherwise, the human body is far from invincible. From minor cuts and scrapes, to more serious and lasting damage, the process of physical human healing is one to be both admired and considerate of.

Understanding the many complex factors of healingparticularly in regards to wound dressingDyson Professor JaimeLee Rizzo, PhD, and Julia Fatum '20 are embarking on a natural approach.

Titled “Manuka Honey and Beeswax as a Natural Antibacterial Wound Dressing,” this duo’s undergraduate student/faculty research collaboration, which is sponsored by the Office of the Provost and Division of Student Success, is examining how to increase the positive healing effects of Manuka honeya natural product with considerable antiviral and antioxidant benefits, that’s already widely used as a wound dressing.

“We already know that Manuka honey itself is effective against certain bacteria,” says Rizzo. “We were thinking if we use that as a base material, a surface, if we could somehow integrate other types of naturally-derived antimicrobial agents—essential oils, powders, flowers, it would enhance the efficacy of Manuka honey even more.”

Fatum, who is applying her knowledge gleaned from her organic chemistry studies, is taking that theory to the next level. Currently, she is busy creating formulations of honey with essential oils to determine the most useful and effective remedies.

“We’re trying to see if honey combined with different essential oils would be more effective as far as decreasing the growth of bacteria on a surface,” says Fatum. “We found that using certain oils work better than others, and when we get those results back we increase the concentration of the oils to see if that would make it more effective against the bacteria.”

The work has required some considerable problem solving. As Fatum explained, essential oils and Manuka honey weren’t exactly the best of friends initiallythey required another substance, aloe vera gel, to help bring them together.

“When I first made the samples, I was mixing the honey and oils and they were not very soluble, so I had to do a literature search on what would make them homogenoushoney is in the aqueous layer and the oils were in the organic layer,” says Fatum. “I had to find a substance that would combine themand that proved to be aloe vera gel, another natural source.”

Ensuring that a wound dressing is all-natural has obvious positive benefits. Many related products that are currently available, although effective in treating sores and other ailments, often contain chemicals that can be ultimately harmful to the body.

“The main thing is that it’s all natural,” says Fatum. “Most wound dressing are not completely natural, and have other components that can be potentially harmful.”

Another important aspect the duo is looking into is UV protection. While having an all-natural product is of course desirable, Fatum and Rizzo would also like to develop a remedy that could properly resist the negative effects of sunlight.

“The only downside of the current mixture is that it works well with UV, but after adding the aloe, it doesn’t work as well,” says Fatum. “I’ve been experimenting with adding different concentrations of aloe. The lower the concentration of aloe I’m able to add, the more effective it is against UV.”

Ultimately, Rizzo and Fatum hope to use their knowledge and appetite for innovation to provide individuals of all ages a healthier way to treat wounds. And as Rizzo notes, the ideal wound dressing would not only be able to heal, but would also aid as a preventative measure.

“In the long term, the expectation is to serve as a natural type of wound dressing, possibly even with diabetic ulcers,” says Rizzo. “If you have an open sore, you can just apply this dressing. Not only does it kill bacteria, but it could prevent bacteria.”

Although the duo is excited about the progress they’ve made thus far, they are certainly not resting on their laurels. Experimentation is continuing, and will culminate in some form this spring, when Fatum presents their work at the national conference held by the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Orlando, Florida in March 2019.

“I've never presented at a national conference,” says Fatum. “Presenting this research is going to be a big deal for me.”

Until then, Fatum and Rizzo will continue to work toward developing the best antimicrobial formulation possible.