Skin cell gun sprays stem cells for fast recovery from serious burns
Spray-on skin that could help you heal your skin within several days after a serious burn seems as something we used to see in science fiction, but that technology has been developed worldwide for over 5 years. Compared to other currently available skin regeneration or replacement methods, this method shortens the time needed for generation of replacement skin, time needed for rehabilitation, and it is more affordable.
WARNING: The video below contains some graphic images of burns and injuries that are not suitable for everyone. We don’t suggest watching if you have a weak stomach.
Spray-on skin was pioneered in Australia by Dr Fiona Wood AM, who patented her invention of spray on skin for burns victims. She was leading a committed team in the fight to save 28 Bali bombing patients suffering from between 2 and 92 percent body burns, deadly infections and delayed shock. Unlike previous techniques of skin culturing which require 21 days to produce enough cells to cover major burns, her method reduced the period to only 5 days.
The research has also been developed a couple of years ago in UK and by the US military which funds various researches related to regeneration and faster healing. They funded a research at University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine where researchers developed a prototype gun that creates spray-on skin developed by military scientists.
Instead growing sheets of skin for a period which can last over a month, this approach uses stem cells which are harvested from a small patch of healthy skin from the victim or a donor. Afterwards, it is put into a solution and sprayed back on to the affected area. According to Dr Jörg Gerlach from the University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the whole process takes only 90 minutes and the burns can heal within four days. It eliminates a major flaw of existing burns treatment, the time taken to grow new layers of skin in the lab, during which time patients can die from infection.
“What we’re doing is taking the cells, isolating them, and, in the same procedure on the same day, we’re putting the cells onto the wound”, said Gerlach. “The progenitor cells can act immediately. The most critical cells are present, and we are using those cells right away from the patient. We just need to take care that we are distributing the cells nicely over the wound.”
After creating the liquid, it is loaded into a sterile syringe in the skin cell gun and sprayed on the patient’s burned area. After being sprayed, the patient’s wound is covered with a special dressing that provides glucose, sugar, amino acids, antibiotics and electrolytes to the treated area, in order to provide nutrition and clean the wound until the stem cells establish their conversion.
The prototype skin cell gun has already been used to help several patients. So, what is the reason we aren’t seeing this technology used worldwide? Since there is no information about pricing related to this particular technology, I’ll use a comparison to a similar method used a couple of years ago by UK researchers where costs were about $9,000 a day. Due to advance in this technology, and the increasing number of competitors in this field, we do believe this treatment should be more affordable today. In any case, if you compare it to the average hospital stay of a burn victim which lasts for two to three weeks and costs which can reach over $3,000 per day, this method proves less expensive.
UPDATE: We wanted to provide our readers with answers and satisfy our curiosity, and Dr Jörg Gerlach provided us additional information.
“The patient shown was treated with a preliminary prototype and we expect to have our final prototype ready in a few months. The technology is not yet FDA approved, so no device can be purchased. The skin gun price will probably be in the range of $9,000”, Gerlach said for RobAid.
He added that they are in the phase-I work and have to go through phase-II and II clinical studies, and he estimates they’ll need around 4 years. They are developing an electronically processor controlled pneumatic device in a collaboration with a small prototyping company in Berlin, Germany, that does not injure the cells during spraying and bases on medical disposables.
“It is important to mention that there was a misleading statement in the video. What was shown was the patient after one year. His surgeon told him that the wound has healed, but that meant a dry wound without the need of a dressing or bandage. Of course the skin looked still like a wound in the healing process after 4 days”, said Gerlach. “Only over time it became as before the burn. For several months there was a discolorization, meaning that the pigment cells needed much more time for regeneration than the keratinocytes – but that is a positive sign that there was a need for such a therapy, since the pigment cells are in the deeper parts of the skin.”
I was interested have they used the same method to treat some forms of local skin diseases, and Gerlach replied: “I am very sorry to say that our work does relate only to acute burns, and here second degree cases. We can not offer treatments for a situation several months after the injury. This technology is not able to address scars or other conditions like vitiligo, vascular conditions, hair loss or acne. I am not aware of groups which could offer a solution to those problems.”