Human trials are planned early next year on burn victims after researchers regrew skin in animals up to 30 percent quicker from human burn cells.
Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine were the first to find live stem cells in the discarded dermis layer of the skin of human burn victims and apply them for faster skin regrowth in animals. They published their findings this week in the journal eBioMedicine.
An estimated 180,000 deaths every year are caused by burns, according to the World Health Organization. Around 11 million people worldwide require medical attention from burns.
“We show for the first time that full-thickness burned skin that is usually discarded to avoid further morbidities contains viable mesenchymal skin stem cells,” the researchers wrote. “These cells are a readily available source of skin stem cells and can be extracted, expanded in vitro, and used as an adjunctive to existing wound coverage materials in a straightforward and a cost-effective incorporation process. ”
Currently, physicians remove and discard burned skin. They add a collagen dressing to the burned site and hope the new skin regrows before the patient gets a fatal infection — a process that can take months.
“With cells added to the collagen, we expect the process of healing would be very fast — possibly days instead of weeks or months,” Dr. Saeid Amini-Nik, an assistant professor in Toronto’s Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, said in a press release. “For burn patients, time is very important. With the open wound and the need to change dressings, their chance of infection is high, and sometimes they die of sepsis.”
Scientists previously tried to use stem cells for burn healing from other people’s organs, such as umbilical cords. There are problems with this process. Rejection rates are high and surgically removing undamaged skin or bone marrow stem cells can be difficult among people with burns covering more than half of their bodies, who have a great risk of infection.
Toronto researchers had hoped to find even one living cell from discarded skin. In some cases, they found up to 1 million cells.
In preclinical trials, they found human stem cells added to the animals’ collagen dressing hastened skin regrowth by 30 percent. And there were no problems with rejection as seemed to create more natural skin.
“Because we’re using actual skin stem cells, and not from some other part of the body, we believe the quality of the skin will be better,” Amini-Nik said. “You want skin that stretches normally. In burn patients skin gets scarred and they have trouble moving joints because skin is not elastic.”
Patients will feel better after the process, Amini-Nik said.
“Itching and inability to sweat are big problems for burn patients,” Amini-Nik said. “We believe if we use the stem cells from the very same organ, we’ll grow better skin.”
Also of note: there aren’t the typical ethical issues using an individual’s own stem calls.
“Our goal is no death, no scar, and no pain,” said principal clinical researcher Dr. Marc Jeschke, also a professor in the Faculty of Medicine. “With this approach we come closer to no death and no scar.”