Researchers from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) and Northwestern University in the US have devised a new approach to predict the formation of heavy wound scars after a surgery or burn.

The non-invasive method uses a large number of nanoparticles called NanoFlares, which have DNA strands on their surfaces and are formulated into a cream that penetrates the skin for 24 hours.

Subsequently, a handheld fluorescence microscope is used to trace signals emitted as a result of interaction between the nanoparticles and target biomarkers within the skin cells.

“The research team expects the new approach will offer an alternative to existing biopsy techniques, which are invasive, inconvenient and painful.”

Presence of fluorescence signals is perceived as abnormal scarring activity and standard preventive measures such as the use of silicon sheets can be carried out to potentially avoid serious scarring.

The research team expects the new approach will offer an alternative to existing biopsy techniques, which are invasive, inconvenient and painful.

NTU Singapore School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering assistant professor Xu Chenjie said: “When our bioengineered nanoparticles are applied on the skin, they will penetrate up to 2mm below the skin surface and enter scar cells.

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“Upon binding with a specific tell-tale gene released by the scar cells, smaller DNA spikes are knocked loose and light up under the microscope like little light flares. The more flares we see, the more scarring activity there is.”

When tested in animals and human skin samples, NanoFlares demonstrated an ability for fast and accurate prediction of excessive scarring due to wounds, including keloids and skin contractures.

Furthermore, the assessments are said to have revealed negligible toxicity or side effects.

As the DNA sequences on the new nanoparticles can be interchanged, the researchers believe that they can help in the monitoring and analysis of other skin diseases, including skin cancer, which usually requires a biopsy.