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February 29, 2012
The Skin Gun Is Revolutionizing The Rebuilding of Skin Cells

The natural skin healing process is a grouping of the mechanisms that allows the skin to repair itself after a tear, burn or other injury. The problem is, the process takes very long to completely heal burns and severely damaged skin. A revolutionary technology called the skin gun sprays stem cells onto burned skin and is the latest breakthrough treatment in helping burn victims, scientists say.

Dr. Jorg Gerlach of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh developed the gun, which sprays a solution of cells and water onto the damaged skin.

With this technique, individual adult stem cells from the patient's uninjured skin are applied to the wound site, where they differentiate into normal skin. "Skin cell spraying is not new, it was invented around 20 years ago in Argentina; and it is (for example) also performed in Australia," Gerlach stated.

"But with (a) hand-pumped atomizer, similar to (those) window-cleaning sprayers, we are developing an electronically, processor-controlled pneumatic device...that does not injure the cells during spraying..."

The process takes about 90 minutes. Among the handful of patients tested, the initial healing of the wound occurred within two weeks compared to traditional treatments, which take months and pose a risk for patients dying of infection.

Whereas it takes mere hours to prepare and administer stem cells with the stem cell gun, it takes 2-3 weeks to produce a skin sheet and harvest it from an external lab. Once the skin sheet has been attached to the wound, blisters form under the newly attached skin, pushing the sheet up, damaging the wound and increasing the risk of infection. The skin cell gun applies its stem cells directly to the patient's cells, which alleviates the concern of further tissue damage.

The artificial vascular system network also provides a reliable source of protection to the skin stem cells. After the wound has been treated, it takes months for the skin sheet to heal over, yet only days for the skin cell gun to fulfill its function. Reducing the fragility of the cells and time frame of the operation by cleverly employing differentiated stem skin cells in such a way that offers a renewable source of replacement is an essential component of the skin cell gun's capability.

"At present we can only treat severe second-degree burns, but we are working on addressing third-degree burns, as well," he said.

For Matthew Uram, a Pennsylvania state police officer, Gerlach's skin gun was life-changing.

The 44-year-old was one of the first U.S. patients to be treated by the procedure after sustaining first- and second-degree burns to the right side of his face and body after someone poured gasoline onto a bonfire in July 2009 while Uram was standing nearby.

When Uram went for treatment at UPMC Mercy Hospital's burn centre, doctors directed him to Gerlach. Less than a week after the accident, Uram was treated with the gun.

"I had nothing to lose," Uram, 44, stated. "I was in so much pain."

Uram's right shoulder and entire right arm from his wrist up to his neck were treated with the gun. Nearly a year and a half later, he said he has no pain, no tightness and only a little discolouration around his neck.

April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.



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