Invention of a Vacuum-Assisted Wound-Closure Device

Louis Argenta, MD, got the idea while lying awake one night in 1990 while thinking about the case of a diabetic patient with bedsores.

Argenta, professor and chairman of the plastic and reconstructive surgery department, worked with his colleague, bioengineer Michael Morykwas, PhD, to design a suction device that became known as a Vacuum-Assisted Closure (V.A.C.) device.

In the years since their first patent in 1991, the V.A.C. has been used on millions of patients around the world, and it is seen as one of the major, life-saving advances in the treatment of large wounds.

The V.A.C. is a suction device that is applied after a wound is dressed. The device then draws bad fluid from the wound while promoting its closure. V.A.C. therapy has greatly broadened in the years since the Food and Drug Administration first approved its use in 1995. Today, it is used to treat a wide range of wounds, including diabetic ulcers, burns, traumatic wounds and more.

In 2010, hundreds of the devices, made by a company in Texas, went to Haiti after its earthquake. That same year, the device proved its useful in the world of veterinary medicine on an injured Komodo dragon in Singapore. The dragons lay their eggs in a cave, and a dragon there suffered a back wound while being wedged deep in the cave, leaving her open to infection. The V.A.C. successfully closed the wound, healing the new mom.

The develop of the V.A.C. device was one of the earliest instances at the Medical Center of commercializing technology. Today, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is the leading academic medical center in North Carolina in terms of technology transfer revenues.