Not long ago, the standard of care for burns was limited to creams, compression garments, and gauze dressings. Burn patients suffered through lengthy hospital stays, and painful, frequent dressing changes. Those days are dwindling to a close, thanks to the advent of active wound care, a subset of wound care that incorporates the latest scientific methods, such as human tissue engineering. Instead of waiting for the body to heal itself, active wound care products expedite the body’s natural wound healing process.
For burn patients, recovery includes the generation of new skin to replace the damaged tissue. Human tissue engineering made possible the development of temporary skin substitute, a synthetic skin product that doctors can use to treat patients with partial and full-thickness burns.
Temporary skin substitute comprises a synthetic epidermal layer and a bioengineered human dermal matrix. The synthetic epidermal layer protects the wound surface from contamination. In addition, it is semi-permeable, allowing for the exchange of fluid and gas.
The bioengineered human dermal matrix is a nylon mesh upon which grow skin cells called fibroblasts. As the fibroblasts grow, they secrete collagen, along with other proteins and growth factors. These proteins and growth factors are essential to many aspects of healing. Structural proteins, such as collagen, adhere to the wound surface and provide a surface for skin cell migration. Other proteins similarly adhere to the wound surface, and stimulate skin cell production. Finally, growth factors mediate the entire process, acting in a complex communication system at the cellular level. The result is a product that protects the burn surface, and provides the essential proteins and growth factors for healing.
Temporary skin substitute has proved effective as a treatment for burn patients with mid-dermal to intermediate depth partial-thickness burns. Furthermore, temporary skin substitute is also indicated as a temporary cover for deep partial-thickness and full-thickness burn wounds for patients after autograft procedure.
The impact of tissue engineering on the field of wound care has been invaluable. With more genetic research, the future of burn care may hold even shorter recovery times, and lower risks to patients.