Innovative technology that could significantly improve wound healing in people such as those suffering from diabetes, the elderly and the obese, as well as greatly cut the cost to the NHS associated with treating them, has been awarded the Royal Society Brian Mercer Award for Innovation 2012.

HRH The Duke of York with Professor Russell Morris

HRH The Duke of York with Professor Russell

Professor Russell Morris, from the University of St Andrews, has used an exciting development in chemical technology – metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) – to apply small, beneficial amounts of the gas, nitric oxide, to wounds safely in order speed up healing. Nitric oxide is a simple gas molecule which in large amounts is significantly toxic; however in small amounts it has essential roles in the body, such as controlling blood pressure in the cardiovascular system and also in wound healing.

When a wound occurs in normal skin the body produces nitric oxide to fight infection through its antibacterial properties and then to signal the production of new blood vessels to increase blood flow to the damaged area. Unfortunately people who suffer from diabetes, or those who are elderly or obese often don’t produce enough nitric oxide naturally which can lead to poor wound healing. In bad cases, such as chronic wounds which do not heal, the affected limbs may need to be amputated.

There is strong evidence that the addition of nitric oxide to wounds can be extremely beneficial in these situations. However because nitric oxide is a toxic gas there needs to be a method of applying small, beneficial amounts of gas safely to a wound.

The MOFs that Professor Morris is working on offer an opportunity to do just this. These solids are extremely porous and have a very large internal surface area and can store large quantities of gas safely. Professor Morris and his team are developing non toxic MOFs to be incorporated into wound dressings which deliver nitric oxide slowly and at levels which do not cause any toxic or inflammatory effects but show beneficial effect of improved wound healing.

Professor Russell Morris said: “The highly porous metal-organic frameworks act as miniature gas tanks, allowing us to deliver only safe and beneficial amounts of nitric oxide from something as easy to use as a wound dressing. This will transform how we can use this gas to help people with debilitating chronic wounds.”

Professor Morris received his prize at a special event at the Royal Society on 5 December. He will receive just under £200,000 from the Society to develop the technology further so that it can be put into clinical trials.

The Brian Mercer Award for Innovation is a scheme for scientists who wish to develop an already proven concept or prototype into a near-market product ready for commercial exploitation. Professor Morris has already benefited from Royal Society support including a University Research Fellowship (1998-2006), Wolfson Research Merit Award (2009-2010), the Brian Mercer Feasibility Award (2008) and a current Industry Fellowship.

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