One to 2 million Americans have a vein disease where leg wounds don't heal well. They're at risk of infections and even amputation.
But researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found a treatment that speeds up healing some call it "sprayed-on skin."
Sam Proctor, 62, of Rocky Mount, has been dealing with leg pain for 25 years, ever since an accident installing a heating and air system.
He said he "kind of kicked the duct underneath the house, and it cut my leg."
"Sliced your leg," his wife, Martha Proctor, said.
Valves in the veins of his left leg were failing to pump blood back up to the heart, and blood pooled around his ankle.
With all the swelling, ulcers developed and created a huge open sore.
Standard therapy using wound care and compression stockings helps blood flow and healing, but it's a slow process.
"So we really want to find ways to accelerate that process," said Dr. William Marston, a vascular surgeon at UNC.
Marston led the study that uses healthy skin cells sourced from neonatal foreskin after circumcision. The cells are cultured and applied to the wounds with a spray bottle.
"And we think getting these healthy cells are retraining the wound in how to heal," he said.
Researchers found the most effective dose, which provides a 52 percent greater likelihood of wound closure than standard care.
Sam Proctor wasn't part of that study. Surgery to close down the problem veins relieved pressure in his ankles, and other standard therapy has helped his healing.
"Before, you couldn't even tell that Sam had an ankle," Martha Proctor said. "And now he does."
They would welcome the sprayed-on skin cell treatment, which could make the healing progress even faster, but it faces another two years of further study.
UNC researchers are currently enrolling patients in the next phase of the study.
Interested patients should call the Wound Care Clinic at 919-843-1900.
The Open Access Referral Center line – 866-862-4327 – is for physicians. But if patients call, they will be guided through the process on how their doctor can refer them to UNC.
Click here to learn more about UNC's wound care services.
Click here to learn about physician referrals.