The Sydney Burns Foundation (SBF), based at the Sydney Medical School, is supporting research that could revolutionise the treatment of burn injuries. In 2012, the newly-formed SBF received more than $130,000 from generous donors in support of its innovative Living Skin project. Donations have enabled researchers to advance their core work into the development of a laboratory-cultured, full-thickness, three-dimensional skin for burn victims.
To date, the most common treatment for burn wounds has been skin grafting – a surgical procedure that takes skin from a healthy part of the patient’s body and transplants it to a prepared wound bed, much like transplanting a plant into a freshly prepared garden bed. As with plants, there is an expected degree of graft loss, with scarring and subsequent loss of integrity and function, and potential for ongoing pain.
The Living Skin project offers a far better outcome for patients. A fully functioning ‘living skin’ contains the majority of the lost skin elements, such as sweat glands, hair follicles, blood vessels and nerve fibres. As the skin is synthesised in a lab, not removed from elsewhere on a person’s body, it is a much better option for burn victims who have a limited amount of healthy skin left for skin grafts.
The SBF and the Living Skin project is led by Associate Professor Peter Haertsch OAM and Professor Peter Maitz, both of whom were recognised for the medical assistance they provided to the victims of the 2002 Bali bombings. They lead a talented team of researchers based at the Concord Burns Unit in Sydney.
The team discovered that cells in a skin graft carry a cellular chemical language that enables them to promote cellular activity in the wound. The researchers found that these interactions can be mimicked in the lab, using state-of-the-art medical techniques. By harvesting stem cells from the patient’s own skin, SBF’s scientists can produce a structure that will emulate normal skin – an extraordinary 3D living-skin replacement.
“The Living Skin project has the potential to change lives,” says Associate Professor Haertsch. “We are leading the way in developing an affordable and safe alternative to the classic skin grafting procedure, to make the pain of surviving a burns injury worth it.”
Research undertaken to date has been extremely promising. Find out more about the Living Skin project at the Sydney Burns Foundation’s website, or contact the foundation directly on +61 2 9036 5190.