The skin is the largest organ in your body. When it is damaged by a burn, it needs to be replaced quickly and sometimes in large quantities. Researchers have suggested that using injury victims’ own stem cells is a new and novel approach for burn patients that could revolutionize skin grafting for the severely injured.
The mortality rate for serious burns is due primarily to the infections that the broken skin develops while the victim is waiting for the skin. Burn injury leads to the loss of integrity of the skin, which protects us from water loss, temperature change, radiation, trauma and infection. The standard techniques for creating new skin to treat burn victims take weeks and sometimes months. Also, the current skin grafts are unattractive, the sensation is abnormal and it is often extremely itchy.
For now, skin grafts do not have a deep layer, (called the dermis in human skin structure). This leads skin graft recipients to lack some important functions such as sensation, function and proper color. Researchers at the University of Calgary believe that stem cells will accomplish skin grafts for people who need it after a deep burn injury.
With the current treatments, known as, Split Thickness Skin Grafts, the top layer of skin is removed from a part of the body that isn’t burned and used to resurface the burned area. In contrast, a team at the University of Calgary is focused on isolating stem cells to help regenerate the dermis and improve the overall function of that grafted skin. This generates new dermal cells which are missing after a typical skin graft.
[quote_box author=”Dr. Vincent Gabriel,” profession=”co-lead author of the research”]The dermis is important because that’s where all the nerve endings, the hair follicles, the oil glands and sweat glands are[/quote_box]
The researchers are examining how to harvest dermal stem cells from patients for use with the skin graft, either at the same time or after the graft has been applied to the burn. This could potentially provide an unlimited source of skin replacements for burn victims.
Although there are many strategies in burn care, stem cell therapy does bring the prospect of skin regeneration ever closer to clinical reality.
Over the next three years, the research will receive a total of $1.125 million in funding from the province and the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society. The team is in the early stages of researching, but they raise hope it could be ready for human trials at the end of the three year grant cycle.