Already, the treatment has helped heal Spirit, a burned dog in a high-profile animal cruelty case, and Gasper, a beluga whale at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.
The researchers envision a human application for the technology, which they're currently seeking to patent.
Dr. Bran Ritchie, a distinguished research scientist in the department of small animal medicine and surgery at the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine, said the compound, known as Tricide, was initially developed by now retired UGA professor Dr. Richard Wooley to treat burns. It was later applied to skin lesions on fish and other aquatic animals. Tricide works by enhancing the effectiveness of antibiotics.
"In the case of burn victims, whether animal or human, bacteria and fungi can infect the open wounds and kill the patient," Ritchie said. "We have found a way to kill those drug-resistant bacteria and fungi with compounds that cleanse wounds while being gentle on the tissue."
Combining Tricide with a bioadhesive came about as a result of collaboration between Ritchie and Tony Capomacchia, an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy who specializes in the formulation of drug delivery systems.
The first noteworthy application of the Tricide bioadhesive came last year in the treatment of Spirit, the Athens-area dog that was deliberately set on fire. The researchers are currently using the compound to heal skin ulcers on a whale named Gasper who was rescued from a Mexico City amusement park and is now a popular resident of the Georgia Aquarium.
Petroleum-based ointments are commonly used in treating skin infections, but Capomacchia said that petroleum can be toxic and inhibit healing,"Using a petroleum product would be like pouring motor oil into the wound," he said.
Ritchie found that using an ointment made from vitamin E kept wounds from dehydrating and promoted healing. He learned that Capomacchia was also working with vitamin E in transdermal applications, and their collaboration began.
Ritchie said that the bioadhesive could have numerous human applications, particularly with swimmers or other athletes and people in military settings.
"In high-school athletics especially, getting staph infections from scratches is a huge problem. Our bioadhesive can adhere to wet skin, cleanse the wound and promote healing," he said, adding that they're also looking at a non-oily gel formulation for use as a combination cleanser and ointment for killing acne-causing bacteria.