Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
Photos courtesy of DOST
Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death among Filipino, according to the Department of Health (DOH). Over six million Filipinos are diagnosed to have diabetes, the Philippine Center for Diabetes Education Foundation reports.
Described as a chronic disease, diabetes is “characterized by high levels of sugar in the blood because of inadequate production and/or action of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels,” DOH explains.
Minor wounds, cuts, and burns are an unfortunate but unavoidable part of life. But among people with diabetes, these injuries can lead to serious health issues. “When a person has diabetes, wounds can take longer to heal,” says Medical News Today’s Zawn Villines.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with diabetes experience complications caused by infected wounds. “An infection can spread to tissue and bone near the wound or more distant areas of the body,” Villines writes. “In some cases, and without emergency care, an infection can be life-threatening or may even be fatal.”
According to Villines, factors that may increase the risk include impaired sweating, dry and cracked skin, toenail infections, and foot abnormalities. Other ways diabetes might affect wound healing include: reduced production of growth and healing hormones, decreased production and repair of new blood vessels, a weakened skin barrier, and reduced collagen production.
“Even small cuts on the feet can develop into diabetic foot ulcers – chronic, non-healing wounds that are vulnerable to infection,” states the website of the US National Institute of Health. “Diabetic foot ulcers are a major cause of lower limb amputation, disability, and death in people with diabetes.”
But there’s good news. A Filipino innovator develops wound patches specifically for people with diabetes made from coconut. It’s called Vitro Engineered Restorative Microcellulose Absorbent Covering (VERMAC).
Credited for developing VERMAC is Denver Chicano, a registered nurse who worked in the burn unit of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). It was while he was with PGH that the idea came.
In 2007, Chicano saw patients who cannot afford the expensive medications and medical supplies to treat burn injuries. In most instances, these victims weren’t able to complete their full treatment regimen for financial constraints.
“Many of the patients in the PGH Burn Unit came from indigent or low-income families,” reported the website emergency-live.com. “He also observed how painful and limited the healing effectivity is of the current and available treatment.”
This made him study the treatment protocols. He found out there was a lack of a moisture barrier, a lack of flexibility in the materials used in the dressings (thus resulting in open spaces or pockets), and inadequate coverage of the wound area.
Chicano “also noted that for dressings using traditional gauze material, the regular changing of the dressings would result in some of the fluid exudates and wound tissues would bind with the gauze and would end up being physically removed along with the gauze dressing. This would result in the healing process being disrupted.”
During his off-hours, he tried a dressing material that was not only effective but less expensive as well. VERMAC was the end product of such experiments.
“VERMAC is produced using coconuts as the main ingredient of a readily available local crop that helps to maintain its low cost,” emergency-live.com reports. “Its physical properties allow the material to conform to the size and shape of the wound thus reducing the occurrence of exposed wound areas and small pockets. In addition, the material has been observed to exhibit bacteriostatic properties thus aiding the prevention of secondary infection.”
If VERMAC can be used for burn injuries, it can also be applied for diabetics having wounds to heal faster and better. “Because of the result of narrowed blood vessels, diabetic wound healing is impaired because there is less oxygen that reaches the wound that results in slow healing,” states a press release from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
The DOST saw the great potential of the invention of Chicano. Through the Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP), DOST supported the initiative to develop the technology of producing a perforated wound patch made out of coconut for diabetic persons.
During the recent department’s weekly report aired at DOSTv, Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña expressed his appreciation with the PatchMed Cosmetics Trading, the company established by Chicano that is behind the innovation.
“Nakakamangha itong company na ito dahil nakita ko kung papaano sila umangat sa kanilang ginagawang produkto. Noong una gumawa sila ng wound dressing mula sa coconut o niyog – na tinatawag nilang cocopatch. Ngayon ay mayroon na naman silang bagong produkto na ipapakilala,” the science secretary said.
According to Chicano, PatchMed Cosmetics Trading got familiar with the technicality of their products thanks to DOST. Their products, he admitted, actually started without bioequivalence throughout the world.
“From a seed idea to an actual product, the DOST SETUP project helped us with the machines we need to manufacture our products,” Chicano pointed out.
Not contented with just developing the product, Chicano has now diversified from producing wound dressing products for burns and wounds to establishing the first wound care clinic in the Philippines called Alphacell Wound Clinic.
“With the establishment of our clinic, we saw a problem with the diabetic patients na iba-iba ang ginagamit na standard for ointment at gasa. Because of this, we came up with perforated cellulose which has better moisture control and autolytic debridement for diabetic wounds,” Chicano said.
Chicano added that they also developed a product to be used as an alternative to povidone-iodine. The anti-bacterial spray gel for wound care for kids has coconut-based components as the active ingredient.
According to the press release, the technology has been recognized around the world and won several awards, including the UP-PGH Recognition, Tatak PGH Nurse Innovator Award, Most Promising Intellectual Property Award by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Philippine Green Innovation Product 2014. It was also declared the Creative Design Category Regional Winner during the National Invention Contest and Exhibits organized by the DOST-Technology Application and Promotion Institute.
PatchMed Cosmetic Trading products are now supplied to the different hospitals and wound care clinics in the country and are also available for online delivery through their Facebook page.