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SALT LAKE CITY -- A spray solution of a patient's own stem cells is healing their severe burns. So far, early experiments under a University of Utah pilot project are showing some remarkable results.
What was once a serious burn on Kaye Adkins foot is healing nicely now because of a topical spray. With diabetes as a complication, the small but open wound had not healed after weeks of failed treatments.
Dr. Amalia Cochran with the university's Burn Care Center says, "With a wound that is open for several months, as this patient suffered prior to seeing us in our burn clinic, we worry about a pretty heavy bacterial load there."
But enter the evolutionary world of regenerative medicine, using almost a bedside stem cell technique that takes only about 15 minutes. With red cells removed, a concentrate of platelets and progenitor cells is combined with calcium and thrombin. The final mixture looks almost like Jello.
"I woke up and saw them with this big thin, looked like a needle, and I said you're going to put that in my foot? And they said NO, we're going to spray," Adkins said.
Though her own skin graft had failed before, the topical spray was used during a second graft. It "took" and healed. "I had never heard of anything like that. It was just amazing," Adkins said.
Adkins burn is healing and so is her heart. Coincidentally, stem cells were used during her bypass surgery five weeks ago to hasten healing for that procedure as well. While hundreds of heart patients have had stem cell treatments, burn patients are still few in numbers.
Cardiothoracic surgeon Amit Patel and burn care surgeon Amalia Cochran are experimenting on small burns for now. But down the road, both are hoping for large scale clinical trials on patients with much larger burns.
Patel asks, "Can we accelerate healing or improve healing. Then it's the quality of healing. And then, we hopefully advance to decreasing the scarring process completely."
"It's my hope that in my career," Cochran adds, "stem cells will completely revolutionize how we're able to take care of patients. Not just with small burns that are challenging to heal, but with massive burn injuries as well."
The military is keeping a close eye on the Utah project. The future for treating burns on soldiers could stagger the imagination even more. Patel says "regrowing your own skin in a bioreactor is very realistic and that's not five years away even. We start with a biological band aid and hope to end up with basically synthetic skin that's still derived from your own cells."
In this dream of regenerative medicine, Patel believes we can only imagine a day when sheets of pristine skin might be available to any patient off the shelf.