A common protein found in cow’s milk may soon revolutionize the field of wound healing, according to a new study from University College London.
The research, published in the journal Interface, uncovers the impressive healing capabilities of casein-infused bandages, an innovation that could replace expensive components currently used in wound dressings, such as silver.
Casein contributes approximately 80% of the protein in cow’s milk. Over the last decade, scientists have become increasingly intrigued by casein’s potential benefits.
The antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties of casein, combined with its value as a dietary supplement, make this protein an exciting field of study.
The UCL team, led by Dr. Jubair Ahmed, explored the potential of casein in a novel context: wound healing.
The researchers blended pure casein with polycaprolactone (PCL), a biodegradable polyester traditionally used in bandage materials. Utilizing a manufacturing technique known as pressurised gyration, first developed at UCL in 2013, they spun the mixture into fibrous material to create casein-infused bandages.
This technique, more cost-effective than other manufacturing methods such as electrospinning, allows for economical large-scale production.
In a rigorously controlled animal model, rats with identical small skin perforations were divided into three groups. The first group’s wounds were dressed with casein-infused bandages, the second group received regular PCL bandages, and the third group’s wounds were left untreated.
Over a period of 14 days, the team closely monitored the healing progress by photographing and measuring the wounds and conducting microscopic examinations.
At the end of the 14-day period, wounds treated with casein-infused bandages healed to just 5.2% of their original size. In contrast, the wounds in the PCL bandage group and untreated group reduced to 31.1% and 45.6% of their original size, respectively.
“Natural materials contain some wonderful properties, many of which are unknown. We knew that casein was reputed to have healing benefits and our results suggest there is a lot of potential to use it in medical applications like wound dressings. More work is needed to ensure that casein dressings are safe and effective in humans, but these initial findings are promising,” said Dr. Ahmed.
Additional analysis revealed that the casein bandages were non-toxic and levels of immune-related molecules surrounding the casein-treated wounds were markedly lower. This outcome further reinforces the healing benefits of this milk protein.
Casein’s low-cost, readily available, and potential scalability make it an appealing alternative for future medical applications. However, one challenge in moving toward clinical use is ensuring consistency in the chemical composition and potency of the natural substances, as these can vary.
“All the research so far suggests that casein has wound healing potential, but at the moment we don’t really know why in any great detail. Casein has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, which may certainly play a part,” said study senior author Professor Mohan Edirisinghe.
“The next step will be to understand the biological interactions taking place before we can consider clinical trials in humans.”
Milk is a rich source of essential nutrients, and proteins make up a significant part of these nutrients. The two primary types of protein found in milk are casein and whey.
This accounts for about 80% of the protein content in cow’s milk. It’s a slow-digesting protein that provides a sustained release of amino acids, making it beneficial for muscle growth and recovery.
Casein is also known for its various health benefits such as enhancing the body’s immune function, promoting healthy digestion, and potentially even reducing high blood pressure.
In the recent study conducted by researchers at UCL mentioned earlier, casein was found to have potential wound healing properties, which opens a new avenue for research in medical science.
This protein constitutes around 20% of the protein content in milk. Whey is a byproduct of cheese production and is a complete protein, meaning it contains all essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own.
Whey protein is quickly absorbed and is commonly used in protein powders and supplements to aid muscle recovery and growth after exercise. It’s also associated with numerous health benefits, such as weight loss, lowering cholesterol levels, and managing type 2 diabetes.