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Skin cell gun sprays stem cells for fast recovery from serious burns

By Damir Beciri
22 Comments6 February 2011

spray-on-skin-gerlachSpray-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.”

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22 Comments — Leave your response!

  • Avatar
    Damir Beciri

    The skin gun will be featured on the National Geographic Channel on Monday February 7, in a programme called How to Build a Beating Heart, which examines modern techniques of tissue engineering.

    If you are from a region where streaming is blocked, you can watch it on one of the following links:
    YouTube (mirrored image)
    National Geographic website

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    Dr Rick O,

    Brilliant! I work at a hospital and the patients with severe burns could have multiple benefits from this. Can’t wait it becomes commercially available.

  • Avatar
    Flying Ant

    Just as I wanted to complain that your video wasn’t working, I noticed the links you gave in your comment.

    This is really something special, and governments should fund similar projects for our better future. The text was interesting but the results related to that policeman from the video are really impressive.

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    As long it’s not fetal stem cells… The show on National Geographic Chanel should be interesting because I read more information on the link you provided and it will feature other breakthroughs in the field of regenerative medicine.

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    When will this become commercially available and what would the price be?

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    This skin cell gun is really impressive and i can’t wait to watch the show on NGC.

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    Well, it figures after update, but it is still impressive.

  • Avatar
    Dr Rick O.

    After update in this article it may look as this technology is not worth the money, however, it could make a huge difference in recovery time and it eliminates the possibility of casualty due to infection.

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    Very good innovation. Major breakthrough in SKIN SURGERY.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

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    I wonder why a patch of scarred skin cannot be frozen, sanded or otherwise removed and addressed using these methods. I get that the thrust of the research might be burns, but I would imagine intentionally damaged skin by a doctor in a clean environment would have to be better than burns and that repair could be affected similarly.

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    I am very interested in this, but your video is not available to be viewed in Australia.
    How disappointing, many would really love to be able to see it as there is so much interest in these sorts of advances.
    Maybe if a mistake was made in submitting the video it can be corrected or re-posted. If a mistake was not made, then maybe a reason for it may be made and explain the reasons why?

  • Avatar
    Damir Beciri

    The video embedded inside the article is viewable only in North America (a rule set by National Geographic), but you can watch the mirrored image version of the video in a link provided in my first comment above.

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    Nice weblog right here! Additionally your site loads up very fast! What web host are you the usage of? Can I am getting your affiliate link on your host? I desire my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol

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    Surely with this technology, simple cosmetic disorders, such as leucoderma could be solved.
    I understand that burns are more serious, but there are so many millions of people and money to be made from bringing back pigment to white spots and patches, something that seems ironic in this day and age to be so un treatable.
    I would appreciate to be contacted if ever they simplify this technique for the masses.

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    I was very interested in this.. I had to choose something for a school project.. I chose spray on skin cells. It is a very interesting topic.

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    I enjoy what you guys are up too. Such clever work and reporting! Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve added you guys to blogroll.

  • Avatar
    Teddy H Craig

    Mr. Beciri,
    Chef dips hands into tub of 200 degree celsius oil to retrieve fish – and doesn’t burn!

    Can you forward this article to the doctor in the video. I would love to see what would happen if someone with a serious burn could have the chefs stem cells sprayed on their burns; my hope would be that it would pass on to them the same “power” to resist burns as he has. It’s just a thought.

  • Avatar
    Damir Beciri

    As far as I know, that guy relies on Leidenfrost effect – a known phenomenon which allows you to avoid burns in hot liquids with higher viscosity. I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home since the lack of experience might get you hurt.

    For instance, MythBusters have shown you can dip your finger into molten lead without being hurt.

    Instead water, the chef dips his fingers into the batter which protects his fingers from getting burnt, and he perfected this trick over the years to avoid injury.

    So, there’s nothing extraordinary about that man that should be reported to scientists :)

  • Avatar
    Christopher M. Bell

    Was checking over . I want your ideas. Do put up a whole lot more of this issue ok. Thanks a lot

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    I was speaking with a Chinese girl in an adjourning department and she said that the “wound regeneration gun” was sprayed on a piece of cut pork meat and it healed in FIVE seconds!

    That was a few days ago and this article is four years old now, wow!

    note: note, it was second hand news, not seen it myself though

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    I know im not the onlyone thinking. Can this get rid of Stretch marks?

  • Avatar
    Girish Bhushan

    I wanted to know when these products will be available commercially. I am intrested to Deal with such product

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