A pair of University of Miami doctors are conducting the research, funded by the Department of Defence, to develop new therapies using donor stem cells to restore tissue and reduce long-term scarring from burns. The treatment, if successful, could revolutionise burn care by decreasing the need for reconstructive skin graft surgery.
“This is exciting stuff when you think of how helpful it could be. There has been little major advancement in burn treatment in the last 20 years,’’ said Dr Evangelos Badiavas, principal investigator at the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute at UM’s Miller School of Medicine. “Severe burns can ruin a life, so there is a desperate need.’’
“The benefit of this therapy would be to have an ‘off the shelf’ technology available for the treatment of deployment-related burn injuries which would not require skin grafting,” said Dr Wendy Dean, medical adviser for the Tissue Injury and Regenerative Medicine Program Management Office at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity. “One of the most urgent requests from both burn patients and their care providers is to eliminate the need for skin grafts.’’
Patients participating in the trial will come from The University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Burn Centre, most with deep, second-degree burns. For the trial, the wound is typically covered in a thin, protective dressing. Mesenchymal stem cells, adult cells harvested from the donor’s bone marrow, are then injected underneath the coating into the wound to regenerate the outer and inner skin layers.
The mesenchymal stem cells are cultivated in the lab for about four to six weeks then stored in a freezer at minus-80 degrees until they are used for treatment.
“The trial is extremely exciting because right now, we have very little to offer patients with deep second- and third-degree burns, other than skin grafting,” said Dr Carl Schulman, director of UM’s William Lehman Injury Research Centre, who is working with Badiavas on the trial. “We are hoping to modulate the healing process, make the wounds heal better. The hope is that on the deeper wounds, with this treatment, we can avoid surgery or reduce the scarring.”