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Researchers develop new method for healing burns

By Ryan Maass
Researchers develop new method for healing burns
The new approach combines conventional STSDs with stem cell sheets. Photo by Themidget17/Wikimedia Commons

HOUGHTON, Mich., Oct. 28 (UPI) -- An international bioengineering team has developed and tested a burn healing method they say will improve upon conventional treatments.

Currently, burn wounds are treated with full thickness skin grafts. However, Michigan Tech's bioengineers say this approach relies too much on donors. To address this problem, the team combined split thickness skin grafts, or STSGs, with specially engineered stem cells. A paper on the test results was published in the journal Theranostics.

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"STSG can be used under unfavorable conditions, such as a recipient's wound having moderate infection or less vasculature, where full thickness skin grafts would fail," author Feng Zhao said in a press release. "However, STSG are more fragile than full thickness skin grafts and can contract significantly during the healing process."

Stem cells, which can develop into other cell types, were selected to couple with skin grafts due to their adaptive properties. During the tests, researchers transplanted the cells in a rat model and studied their effects.

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Following the treatment, investigators observed significantly improved conditions in their animal models. Rats were found to have less contracted and puckered skin. The stem cells also preserved hair follicles and other functions.

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While the team considers their efforts a success, they concede stem cell sheets are fragile and difficult to harvest. Zhao said the team's next steps will be aimed at improving their mechanical properties.

"We have seen excellent therapeutic effects of the vascularized stem cell sheet in healing full skin wounds. However, the underlying mechanism needs to be further elucidated," she explained. "We also need to conduct large animal experiments, such as in pigs, which are closer to human physiology."

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