Background. Venous ulcers are a serious and highly recurring health problem that cause significant impact on the population. Currently, there are several treatment options available; however, they still entail a great therapeutic challenge, generating implications to the patient's health and quality of life. Objective. To describe the result in the healing of venous ulcers with the perilesional and intralesional use of recombinant human epidermal growth factor (nepidermin) in patients with a clinical, etiology, anatomic, pathophysiology (CEAP) VI venous insufficiency diagnosis. Methods. Retrospective review of a multicenter case series study of 28 patients with a chronic leg venous ulcer diagnosis treated at the Centro de Cirugía Ambulatoria and at Centro Médico Nuestra IPS in the city of Bogotá between November 2016 and December 2017 who received nepidermin through perilesional and intralesional injection. Patient age, sex, ulcer size, and wound-healing response assessment were evaluated. Results. In the studied series, the patients were on average 60 years of age and mostly women (61%), and many of them (47%) had an ulcer located in the medial malleolus; based on the severity of the wound, it was found that upon treatment initiation, a total of 9 patients (26%) were classified as severe, 25 patients (71%) as moderate, and 1 patient (3%) as minor. According to the posttreatment severity score, 28 lesions (80%) dropped to a minor level, 5 lesions (14%) were moderate, and 2 lesions (6%) remained severe. A 100% lesion epithelialization rate was achieved in 69% of patients, and global improvement of the patients observed was 86%. The average duration of the treatment was 5.6 weeks (range, 4-8 weeks). The average number of 75 µg nepidermin vials used was 15.7 per patient. Conclusions. The results indicate that nepidermin achieved a high level of improvement in the lesion severity index, allowing epithelialization and wound healing in most cases over a short period of time.
Key words: nepidermin, recombinant human epidermal growth factor, venous ulcers
Venous ulcers are the last level – and main complication – of chronic venous insufficiency. It is estimated that between 5%-8% of the world’s population suffers from chronic venous insufficiency and that approximately 1%-3% of the adult population develops venous ulcers.1 These ulcers are more frequent in women, with a male-female ratio of 1:3; they represent between 80%-90% of all vascular ulcers2,3 and usually appear on the lower and internal region of the lower extremities.
At a pathophysiological level, venous hypertension is the main mechanism causing this ulcer type, which produces an exudation of high-molecular-weight proteins toward the outer part of the blood vessels, reducing the blood flow on the capillary and allowing white blood cells to group on the wall of the endothelium and to obstruct the capillary. This causes local ischemia, blocking the transportation of oxygen through the erythrocytes, as well as small local hemorrhages and local thrombosis of the venules.4 These proteins would either organize themselves (as is the case with fibrinogen, which turns into fibrin) or would neutralize other proteins (as occurs with the alpha-2-macroglobulin, which inhibits growth factors).5
These processes result in the appearance of a zone around the vessels with a low level of growth factors, with an increment of free radicals and chemotactic substances that would cause a lack of damaged tissue regeneration as well as a loss of the epidermis’s protective capability, causing epithelialization and formation of a new dermis to be altered; this makes it impossible for the ulcer to close, leading to the insidious evolution of a wound that is difficult to heal, greatly affecting the surrounding skin and generating frequent relapses (20%-30% relapse within 2 years, 35%-45% relapse within 3 years, and up to 60% recur within 5 years).6,7
The healing speed of venous ulcers is slow in most cases, as only 50% heal within 4 months, 20% remain open after 2 years, and 8% remain open after 5 years.8 Patients with venous ulcers often undergo a standard compression therapy regimen to restore the altered physiology and repair the wound. However, in 30% of cases, this intervention does not achieve healing of the wound and alternative therapies are considered.9
Currently, there is a large variety of films, external medication, and dressings that help close these ulcers. Recombinant human epidermal growth factor (nepidermin) has recently become available, and is sold as a 75 µg vial for administration directly on the ulcer’s edge and into the ulcer itself. Nepidermin is unique on the market and was developed through recombinant DNA technology; it generates complete wound closure and reduces the healing time of the ulcer, allowing treatment continuation of the venous insufficiency as the basic pathology, and enabling venous surgery without infection risk in those patients who may require it.
The purpose of this study was therefore to describe the results in the healing of venous ulcers with the perilesional and intralesional use of nepidermin in patients with a clinical, etiology, anatomic, and pathophysiology (CEAP) class VI venous insufficiency diagnosis.
This is a retrospective, multicenter, case series study of 28 patients. The ethical principles for the medical investigations in human beings of the Declaration of Helsinki were respected, with approval of the study protocol by the Institutional Review Board. All study subjects provided informed consent.
Selection of study population
Study inclusion criteria were as follows: (1) patients who showed venous reflux in a venous duplex of the lower limbs; (2) CEAP class VI venous insufficiency diagnosis; (3) venous insufficiency of >4 weeks of evolution; (4) ankle/arm index >0.9; and (5) any patient with the above-mentioned criteria who requested vascular surgery at Centro Médico de Cirugía Ambulatoria or at Centro Médico Nuestra IPS in the city of Bogotá between November 2016 and December 2017 who attended consultation.
Study exclusion criteria were as follows: (1) patients with ulcers of non-venous etiology and diabetic foot ulcers; (2) patients with <4 weeks of evolution from ulceration onset; and (3) patients with venous ulcers with infection signs.
To assess the severity of the lesions, the largest side of the wound was measured and classified according to Table 1.
Improvement of the lesion was defined as global if the reduction of the wound’s size was >80% or partial for lesions with a size reduction ≤80%.
Nepidermin administration protocol
The number of nepidermin 75 µg vials to be administered to each patient was determined while taking into account the size of the ulcer, as determined by the external consultation specialist.
All patients were provided with verbal and written information on the nepidermin treatment process. Age, sex, anatomic location of the ulcers (internal lateral side, supramalleolar area, pretibial area, and external lateral side), evolution time of the lesion, size in terms of length and width (cm), and the number of vials used were recorded. These measurements were recorded before treatment, during treatment, and after treatment.
All patients underwent the same process of administration and were treated at the Nursing Consult of Clínica de Heridas Giraldo, which followed the following administration protocol:
(1) Rinse the wound with 500 ml normal saline solution.
(2) Dry the wound with sterile gauze.
(3) Take lesion measurements (length, width, and depth in crown-rump direction.
(4) Assess the lesion tissue according to TIME (viable tissue, signs of infection and inflammation, exudate, and perilesional edges).
(5) Photographic registration.
(6) Dilution of the nepidermin 75 µg vial in 5 mL normal saline solution and prefilling of syringes.
(7) Administration of the nepidermin clockwise in a perilesional and intralesional manner.
(8) Protection of the wound bed with a moist wound-healing dressing depending on the lesion's need and the assessment upon initiation of the TIME procedure.
(9) Cotton and elastic bandage positioned based on the presence and verification of dorsalis pedis artery pulse, capillary filling, and distal perfusion; bandage fixed with adhesives.
(10) Nursing plan: suggestions are given to the patient and relative or caretaker for home, education is strengthened at each session with regard to nutrition, hygiene, administration of medication prescribed by the physician, physical activity, rest, free time, sexual activity, bandage care at home, alarm signs and the importance of medical monitoring.
(11) Wound bandage and the general condition of the patient are checked before discharge to home.
(12) Drug post-administration observation to assess and track possible adverse reactions (20 minutes).
(13) An appointment is scheduled for the following drug administration session.
The frequency of the drug administration was set at 3 times/week, until finishing the vials delivered by the EPS (Health Promotion Institution) of each patient.
The progress seen in the closure of the lesion was determined through the severity assessment of the venous ulcers that were classified according to the Revised Venous Clinical Severity Scoring (VCSS) system,10 from the subcomponent "size of the active ulcer," in which the leg side with the longest wound is taken.
Treatment protocol subsequent to the application of nepidermin
If an epithelialization of the lesion >80% is achieved and the patient requires a surgical correction of the reflux, it is performed; if this percentage is not reached, the patient is re-evaluated and another type of treatment is determined to achieve closure of the injury.
Once the treatment is finished, patients are changed from an elastic bandage to a sock-type compression garment as a complement to the treatment of venous insufficiency, and the need to use a flavonoid medication is evaluated.
A descriptive analysis was performed for each of the variables of interest in the study, analyzing frequencies, percentages, and measurements. The statistical data of the qualitative variables were tabulated in tables and charts considering the absolute frequencies and percentages. The data of the qualitative variables were tabulated in tables according to the distribution of the frequencies.
The Wilcoxon test was performed for the compared data. This statistical model corresponds to an equivalent of the Student’s t-test, but it is applied in ordinal scale measurements for dependent samples. It is an alternative of acceptable efficacy to verify hypotheses. The analysis was performed with the severity variables before and after treatment using the minor, moderate, and severe scale to measure the impact of the treatment with regard to the size of the ulcer.
The study sample comprised 28 patients with 35 lesions located on the lower extremities, specifically in the medial and lateral malleolus, the tibia’s medial anterior surface, internal surface, and posterior surface, and the lateral surface of the leg (Table 2).
The sample included in the study was predominantly female (17 patients [61%] vs 11 male [39%]). The average age of the study sample was 60.5 ± 12.5 years (range, 32-84 years). Overall, the female subjects were older than the male subjects (average patient age, 62.8 years in females [range, 42.0-84.0 years] vs 56 years in men [range, 32.0-80.0 years]) (Table 2).
Eighty-five percent of lesions were located in three specific zones, namely, the medial and lateral malleolus and the tibia’s medial anterior surface (Table 2).
Lesion Evolution Times
The average evolution time of the lesions was 12 months, with a minimum of 4 months and a maximum of 36 months (Table 3). Sixty-six percent of the lesions included in the study were in the 6-12 month evolution group and the remaining 34% were distributed as follows: 42% in the group of >18 months and 17% in the group between 12 and 18 months.
Improvement According to Lesion Severity
Initial measurements of the 35 lesions indicated that 9 had a length >6 cm (classifying them as severe), 25 had a diameter between 2 and 6 cm (classifying them as moderate), and 1 was <2 cm (classifying it as minor). After treatment and completion of the study, 28 lesions showed a reduction in diameter to <2 cm (classifying them as minor). Of these 28 minor lesions, 23 started as moderate, 4 started as severe, and only 1 started as minor and remained there after treatment; the remaining 5 lesions were moderate post treatment (3 changed from severe to moderate and 2 were classified as moderate before and after treatment, although they showed length reduction). Three lesions remained in the severe group post treatment (Figure 1).
According to the severity level, compared to the start and end of the treatment (Figure 2):
•Of the 9 initial severe lesions, a total of 7 (78.0%) changed their severity level; while the remaining 2 (22.0%) did not show a change in severity level, the lesion length shortened.
•Of the 25 initial moderate lesions, a total of 23 (92.0%) changed in severity level; although 2 lesions (8.0%) remained at the same level, there was a reduction in their lengths.
•In the single minor lesion, no change was observed in the severity level; however, a change was observed in the lesion size, and epithelialization of 100% was achieved.
•Statistically, a significant difference was found when the ulcer sizes were compared before and after treatment (P<.001).
Results of Entire Study Population
•The global improvement of the lesions in this case series is 86%, given that 30 of the 35 lesions showed a reduction in their size in >80% of the lesion.
•Five patients (14%) did not achieve an improvement >80%; 3 of these patients did not reach >70% improvement in the lesion, while the remaining 2 showed an improvement between 50%-70%.
•Wound epithelialization (defined as complete wound closure) was found in 24 lesions (69%) post treatment, while 11 (31%) showed partial closure (Figure 2).
Average Treatment Time
The average duration of the treatment of the patients in the study was 5.6 weeks (range 4-8 weeks). Of the total sample, 14 patients (40%) were treated over a period of 8 weeks, while the remaining 60% received treatment for a shorter period of time. This was probably related to the severity of the lesion; in order to verify this correlation, a further study that considers the control of other variables that might influence the results is suggested.
The average number of nepidermin vials used during the study was 15.7/patient (range, 6-24 vials). When stratifying the lesions by severity, we found that:
•44% of the severe lesions required between 12 and 24 vials to reach total epithelialization.
•60% of the moderate lesions required between 12 and 24 vials to reach total epithelialization.
•100% of the minor lesions required 12 vials to reach total epithelialization (Figure 3).
A clinical case example showing the treatment course of an ulcer on the left lower extremity is presented in Figure 4.
Normal wound healing comprises four successive phases—
hemostasis, inflammation, proliferation, and remodeling—and implies the participation of many various growth factors, such as epidermal growth factor, which intervenes in these phases. Its biological functions and pharmacological properties have been the topic of study in many scientific publications, particularly with regard to its use as an inductor of cicatrization of chronic wounds.11
The treatment of venous ulcers constitutes a great challenge. A large variety of therapeutic options that attempt to achieve wound closure is currently available on the market; however, since all venous ulcers do not respond to standard treatments, we think that the application of new alternatives is necessary. Therefore, we offer this study on the use of perilesional and intralesional recombinant human epidermal growth factor (nepidermin) in venous ulcers, given its capacity to regulate important cell functions such as proliferation, migration, cell differentiation, and extracellular matrix synthesis, which are all essential processes in wound repair and regeneration.
It is important to note that after achieving the closure of a venous ulcer, the surgical correction of surface venous reflux in patients who require it and the use of compression therapy are recommended as top priorities, since they play an important role in reducing the risk of a potential relapse. This was highlighted by Mauck et al11 in a systematic review and meta-analysis of surgical interventions versus conservative therapy for venous ulcers, who found that surgical intervention produces less recurrence of the ulcer.12
Lastly, considering the impact on patient quality of life, the extended treatment time, and the various deviations in professional practice in relation to the management of venous ulcers, it can be stated that it is vitally important to make technological progress in drugs for the treatment of this pathology. This study highlights the importance of conducting further investigations and controlled clinical trials that allow improvements in the efficiency of the use of nepidermin for this pathology, helping to adequately develop the therapeutic potential of this drug, and enabling analysis of the efficacy and safety of its use in venous ulcers. In addition, we must further assess its clinical usefulness and effectiveness compared with other products on the market, and thus contribute to the protocolization of its dosing and administration regimes based on its ability to reduce and shorten the wound-healing process in venous ulcers. Further studies should also include a cost-efficacy and epithelialization time analysis, with comparisons between the use of nepidermin vs standard treatment and other local therapies, and not least important, assessments of the effect of nepidermin on patient quality of life as determined by the Charing Cross Venous Ulcer Questionnaire (CCVUQ).13
The use of nepidermin reduces the wound-healing time of lesions in patients with chronic venous ulcers, thus improving their quality of life and allowing continuity in the treatment of the base disease.
Considering the magnitude of the chronic venous ulcer problem among the population, the use of nepidermin is a valid treatment alternative that shows high epithelialization rates.
Regarding the average treatment time, one can conclude that it is directly related to the size of the ulcer at treatment onset, and therefore to the number of nepidermin vials used to achieve lesion closure, given that based on the ulcer size, the number of possible vials that the patient would require for the treatment was subjectively determined (the average treatment time was 5.6 weeks with 15.7 vials/patient). However, additional prospective studies will be required to determine the average number of vials of nepidermin needed for a particular ulcer size and depth.
Due to administrative barriers, 3 patients did not receive the number of vials initially prescribed from the EPS; 2 of these patients did not achieve 100% ulcer closure (although the severity of the lesion was reduced). This situation interfered with our final results. The remaining patient achieved 100% ulcer closure without requiring the missing vials.
The data obtained in this case series demonstrate that the use of perilesional nepidermin in the treatment of venous ulcers achieved an epithelialization rate of 100% in 24 cases (69% of our study group). Sixty percent of the patients were treated for only 4 weeks, achieving satisfactory epithelialization results and decrease in ulcer size. We also achieved a global improvement rate of 86% over a short period, reducing the wound-healing time and showing nepidermin to be a useful methodology that favors wound cicatrization.
Disclosure: The authors have completed and returned the ICMJE Form for Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest. The authors report no conflicts of interest regarding the content herein.
Manuscript submitted October 26, 2018 and accepted November 16, 2018.
Address for correspondence: Dr María Teresa Cacua Sánchez, Peripheral Vascular Surgeon, Universidad El Bosque, Specialist in Healthcare Management and Services, Universidad Sergio Arboleda. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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