The role of skin substitutes in the management of chronic cutaneous wounds

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Chronic wounds, including diabetic and venous ulcers, represent disruption of normal healing processes resulting in a pathological state of nonhealing cutaneous inflammation. They place an increasingly significant economic burden on healthcare providers as their prevalence is rising in keeping with an aging population. Current treatment modalities are slow acting and resource intensive. Bioengineered skin substitutes from autogenic, allogenic, or xenogenic sources have emerged as a new and alternative therapeutic option. A range of such products is licensed for clinical use, which differ in terms of structure and cellular content. Placed directly onto a prepared wound bed, skin substitutes may stimulate or accelerate healing by promoting revascularization, cellular migration, and repopulation of wound fields through provision of an appropriate scaffold material to facilitate these processes. Products containing fetal or autologous cells also benefit from early release of bioactive molecules including growth factors and cytokines. To date, limited numbers of randomized controlled trials studying skin substitutes have been published but evidence from case series and case-control studies is encouraging. This review discusses chronic wound biology, the influence that skin substitutes can exert on this environment, the products currently available, and examines the evidence for their use in chronic wound management.

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