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Video: Stem cells take aim at burn patients

03/03/2011
Julie Manoharan

Researchers have developed a skin gun that heals burns using patients’ stem cells.

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A new stem-cell spray gun has been used to treat about a dozen burn patients with their own stem cells in clinical trials.

Jörg Gerlach, professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburg, developed the device, which uses regenerative skin cells from the patient’s own skin to restore wounded areas. The gun sprays a water-based stem-cell solution into an airstream through a syringe.

Gerlach has treated about a dozen burn victims using the skin gun. His work will be featured in an upcoming episode of National Geographic’s television series, Explorer. Source: National Geographic.

The two-hour procedure heals closed first-degree burn wounds in about one week and restores normal skin coloring and texture within months. For severe second-degree burn patients with open wounds, the process heals the burn with minimal signs of scarring in about a year.

After eight years in development, Gerlach is pleased with the results so far. “It’s very nice [to help people],” he said. “It’s great to see our developments in a clinical setting.”

But the device does have its limitations; it cannot treat more severe and painful third-degree burns that extend down to a patient’s bone or muscle. “I’m very sorry to say that our work relates to acute, second-degree cases only,” said Gerlach.

His team is currently developing a skin gun that can treat such severe burns. “Once you see the clinical situations, you really want to find solutions to these big problems,” said Gerlach. The key will be including dermal cells.

To be effective, the treatment must be applied shortly after the injury. The skin changes significantly during the weeks and months following such an injury, so patients who wait may be ineligible for effective treatment.

The skin gun is now in clinical trials for FDA approval, a process that could take up to three years. Gerlach and his team are now focusing on clinical trial results to improve their current model.

Gerlach hopes to eventually treat not only burns but scars, acne, hair loss, and other vascular conditions as well. By re-opening scars and treating them with the skin gun, it is possible that scars could be removed, bringing the skin gun into the realm of cosmetic surgery.