Treating Severe Burns in the 21st Century: Meet the Skin Gun.


Scientists from the United States have been developing a technological feat that would drastically reduce the recovery time for people experiencing severe burns and wounds. It isn’t new, per se (it has been in development for at least 5 years, building on several previous models), but it’s new (and interesting) to me. Alas.. Here we are.

Image Credit: A.D.A.M.

Traditionally, when one suffers severe second or third degree burns, doctors must go through the tedious process of grafting, where they surgically remove healthy sections of a person’s own skin and tissue which is subsequently reconstructed and replaced with the damaged skin. This process can be long, fraught and painful. There is also always the possibility looming that the body will reject the tissue taken from the donor site or it could become infected.

Meet the Skin Gun:

Credit: Nat Geo

Credit: Nat Geo

In order to bypass some of the downsides of skin grafting, scientists from all over the world have been looking for an alternative method for burn patients. In doing so, ‘The Skin Gun,’ as its called, was created. (By a team from the University of Pittsburg’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine) The technology requires that a doctor remove healthy stem cells from an undamaged area on the victims body (through a biopsy). After the stem cells are isolated, they are used in conjunction with a water-based solution, which is then sprayed on top of the burn. (similar in mechanics to an aerosol spray-paint can)

Almost immediately afterward (the process generally only takes about an hour), the wound is wrapped with a special dressing that is equipped with a set of tubes that send antibiotics, electrolytes, glucose, and amino acids to the wound. (They are pretty much an artificial version of arteries and veins, which work similarly with functions in the body)

image2

The result of a skin graft. (Source)

Within days, the stem cells successfully encourage cellular regeneration of the inflicted area, allowing the wound to heal in only a mere fraction of the time (eliminating most of the risks involved with the traditional skin grating method). Whereas, in the past, skin grafts can take several months to a year to finish in completion. Cosmetically speaking, the healed skin is still quite jarring with the latter method.

Practical Methods:

At the moment, the technique can only be used on second degree burns (and it is still quite expensive), but in the future, its usage could be increased exponentially. Perhaps even being used for reconstruction of the breast after a life-saving mastectomy. It could eventually be used to break apart scar tissue internally, ridding a person of unsightly scars.

To see the results before-and-after, this is little Zed Merrick, who burnt his chest area after dumping a hot pot of tea on himself:

zeb

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