YOUR HEALTH: Growing your own skin without painful grafts

BALTIMORE, Maryland – It could be a game-changer for people suffering from severe burns.

There's a new way to regenerate a patient's own fully-functional skin in the lab.  So far, it's worked on pig skin, but what's called  Skin TE could be life-changing for burn patients.

"I just went to work one morning like, and turned the equipment on, and it flashed the whole first floor that I was in the middle of," remembered James Hillman.

A propane explosion four years ago left Hillman with second and third degree burns on over half his body.

"I remember laying there and like, seeing my tendon in my hands it was burned so bad I had skin dripping off of it."

James spent three months in a burn unit.   He had numerous skin grafts, where doctors move healthy skin over burns, and years of painful therapy.

Biotech company PolarityTE, Inc. has developed a treatment to grow a patient's own skin, potentially eliminating the need for skin grafts.

A medical professional takes a two centimeter graft from the patient and ships it off in the Skin TE box to a lab where the skin is grown in a 3-D system on a platform.

It takes just a matter of hours

"It's then returned to the patient and it literally grows on the patient so the patient is used as its own medium," explained Dr. Stephen Miller, chief clinical director for PolarityTE.

The gel is added to the biopsy wound.  It regenerates to full thickness, fully functional skin with new hair follicles in about three weeks.

And it's quick.

Processing takes a matter of hours "enabling the SkinTE product to be returned to the provider within approximately 48 hours," said Dr. Miller.

"What's so amazing to me is that you won't need all those donor sites," said Linda Ware, Johns Hopkins Medical Center's Burn Center coordinator of Burn Rehabilitation.

"So it does away with all that extra part of the body being scarred."

"Oh, it's mind-blowing," said Hillman.  "It's so exciting, I mean, not to have the skin grafts that I have."

Hillman is studying to be a burn nurse and may, some day, help patients with Skin TE.

Skin TE is registered with the FDA and is available in the U.S.

There will be a limited release in 15 centers around the country and a wider release next year.

PolarityTE also hopes to begin a pilot human clinical trial later this year although that's not required by the FDA.

For minor burns:

  • Cool the burn to help soothe the pain
  • Hold the burned area under cool not cold water for 10 to 15 minutes or until the pain eases
  • Remove rings or other tight items from the burned area
  • Don't break small blisters, apply moisturizers or Aloe Vera
  • If needed, take over the counter pain reliever and consider a tetanus shot if you are not up to date

For major burn treatment:

  • Call 911 or emergency medical help
  • Until help arrives, protect the burned person from further harm
  • Check for signs of circulation
  • Don't immerse large severe burns in cold water
  • Elevate the burned area, raise it above heart level if possible
  • Finally, use a cool, moist bandage or clean cloth to cover the burned area.
    (Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-burns/basics/ART-20056649)

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.