For people with diabetes, hardening of the arteries, rheumatoid arthritis or other conditions that involve poor circulation, a simple wound can become a nightmare of chronic open sores, serious infection, gangrene and even amputation.
Until recently, medical science could do little to help.
Now, the new Greater Baltimore Wound Care Center is offering therapy made from natural growth factors extracted from platelets in the patient's own blood that speeds the healing of these stubborn wounds.
The wound clinic in Owings Mills, affiliated with the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, is the only one in the Maryland-Washington region and one of only 30 wound care centers in the country, Dr. Dale Buchbinder, chief of surgery at GBMC and the medical director of the clinic, said yesterday.
"The goal is to keep these people from losing arms and legs," Buchbinder said. "There are a lot of patients who need this kind of attention and specialized care. And, these patients usually end up being shuttled around from doctor to doctor. Their disease is not the kind that doctors usually like taking care of."
"The results are astonishing," said Mary Hilton, a nurse, who is the program director of the clinic. "The wound can heal within eight to 10 weeks."
An estimated 5 million Americans suffer from some kind of condition that hampers their natural healing process, experts say. In the metropolitan Baltimore area, Buchbinder estimated, about 50,000 people could benefit from the therapy and the comprehensive care approach of the clinic.
As a vascular surgeon, Buchbinder said, he sees a large number of patients who have poor circulation problems. From some of his own early research, he said, he learned that once doctors started putting these patients on special protocols and paying attention to them, they did much better.
The growth factor treatment, developed four years ago by Dr. David Knighton, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, has been patented as Procuren by Curative Technologies Inc. Curative Technologies also came up with the concept of wound healing centers, using teams of doctors and nurses trained in specialized wound care.
Procuren is a topical solution placed directly into the wound as a dressing for 12 hours a day followed by an antibiotic dressing for another 12 hours until healing takes place. The first treatment is done at the center, where patients are taught how to apply their dressings.
Growth factors stimulate the growth of various kinds of tissues -- blood vessels, the skin and the connective tissue. At least eight or nine platelet-derived growth factors have been isolated to date.