Over ten years ago world-renowned Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist Professor Peter-John Wormald had the revolutionary idea of developing a gel to treat chronic and recurring inflammation after sinus surgery.

Flash-forward to a decade later and this gel is showing such life-changing results for patients post-surgery that Prof Wormald has been awarded a THRF 2017 Development Grant of $200,000 to expand its use to chronic pain after back surgery.

When a patient undergoes routine back surgery it is very common for scarring and adhesions to form, leaving some patients in more pain than what they had before surgery. Despite this, there are currently no therapies available to these patients to help relieve their pain. Until now!

A/Prof Sarah Vreugde.
A/Prof Sarah Vreugde.

Prof Wormald and colleague Associate Professor Sarah Vreugde based at The Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research (BHI) have discovered this same gel they now use to treat nasal inflammation following surgery, can also be used to prevent scarring following routine back surgery. Now armed with the support of this grant, this innovative gel will soon be available to patients through a clinical trial.

“In a collaboration between the Centres of Excellence in New Zealand and our department of ENT at The University of Adelaide, we have developed a surgical gel which uses a polymer derived from squid which possesses both anti-bleeding and anti-scarring properties,” Prof Wormald explains.

“Having had success with the gel in nasal cavities and sinuses, we identified problems with back surgery and a high failure rate with scar tissue and it seemed a logical extension to trial the gel to see if it is going to be effective.”

A/Prof Vreugde says it was the breakthrough idea of adding an additional anti-scarring compound to the gel which showed significant effects in reducing scarring after back surgery.

“We soon discovered that adding a particular compound called deferiprone which has strong anti-scarring properties to the gel actually strengthened its effect on preventing adhesions following back surgery,” A/Prof Vreugde said.

“Through our initial research it was determined that without the gel there was 94 per cent of cases after surgery where adhesions formed, but with the gel this reduced significantly,” she said.

An incredibly exciting discovery for the expert team, Prof Wormald and A/Prof Vreugde are now preparing the gel for a clinical trial, and are hopeful the treatment could be available to patients across the globe undergoing back surgery within five years.

With additional support from THRF, the research team are also exploring the use of this same gel to reduce the formation of scarring following abdominal surgery.

“In 95 per cent of cases, patients will have adhesion formation following abdominal surgery, and a significant number of these people will then require another surgery within two years to remove this scarring due to chronic pain. We’re now in the process of optimising the gel to prevent these adhesions from occurring,” A/Prof Vreugde said.

Thanks to your ongoing support, THRF can continue to support translational research like this which is having a direct impact on people now.

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