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New Drug Delivery System to Heal Diabetic Foot Ulcers

Deferoxamine delivered through the skin has the potential to prevent amputations…

Stanford University School of Medicine researchers presented results at the American College of Surgeons Annual Clinical Congress showing they have developed a drug delivered via a skin patch that can heal wounds and prevent those wounds from reoccurring.

Geoffrey Gurtner, MD, FACS, the Johnson and Johnson Professor of Surgery and associate chairman of surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine, stated that foot ulcers are the major contributing factor to foot amputations being performed on diabetic patients and, even after the operation, many diabetics fare worse. “A diabetic patient who undergoes an amputation has a 50% five-year mortality, which is worse than breast cancer or Hodgkin’s disease.”

Foot ulcers are particularly dangerous for diabetics because they impair blood flow preventing the wound from healing properly. In addition to blocked vessels, the blood sugar toxicity in diabetic patients impairs a protein called hypoxia inducible factor-1 alpha (HIF-1a). This protein turns on the genes that initiate the development of new networks of small blood vessels needed to heal damaged tissues. It is through this mechanism that Dr. Gurtner and his colleagues have developed this drug for use with a new delivery system.

The drug increases the protein HIF-1a in diabetic patients, and the main ingredient is another medication that has been available for over 60 years, called deferoxamine. However, the drug’s molecules are too large to penetrate the skin, therefore the development of a transdermal patch to serve as the delivery system is necessary for use.

The Stanford research team has tested multiple methods and their results show that the patch had several advantages. The wounds healed 14 days faster, and it boosted the quality of the wound healing by improving the collagen levels in damaged skin. Because the patch healed skin much more effectively, there is a chance it could prevent repeat ulcers and maybe even initial ulcers too.

The drug will need to undergo further clinical trials on diabetic patients who are at risk for foot ulcers prior to coming to the market. Dr. Gurtner concluded, “Once we prove that it works, I could see this drug one day becoming first line of treatment for diabetic ulcers and preventative foot care.”

Practice Pearls:

  • Deferoxamine is currently available as an injectable; this would be the first formulation as a transdermal patch and a new indication for diabetic foot ulcers.
  • The drug is still in the clinical trial phase for this use. However, clinicians can anticipate potential treatment options for their diabetic patients.
  • Diabetic foot ulcers are a serious concern for diabetic patients. This drug treatment has the potential for improving individualized care for our diabetic patients.


Geoffrey Gurtner, MD, FACS; American College of Surgeons. “Diabetic Foot Ulcers May be Healed by a New Drug Delivered Through a Skin Patch.”Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 29 Oct. 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.