The spray-gun which fires stem cells on to the damaged skin has already been used successfully on a dozen patients. Rather than sheets of skin being laboriously grown over a period of a month and applied to the patient, stem cells are harvested from a small patch of healthy skin, put into a solution and sprayed back on to the affected area.
The process takes only 90 minutes, said Dr Jörg Gerlach, of the University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. And burns can heal in as little as four days. It eliminates a major flaw of existing burns treatment, the time taken to grow new layers of skin in the lab, during which time patients can die from infection.
Dr Gerlach said the skin gun was “like paint spraying, you just need a more sophisticated device”. Speaking to the National Geographic Channel, he described how the process involved isolating stem cells from a healthy patch of the patient’s skin, putting those cells in a water solution, and then spraying the mixture back on.
After being sprayed, the patient’s wound is covered with a special dressing that provides glucose, sugar, amino acids, antibiotics and electroytes to the treated area, to provide nutrition and clean the wound until the stem cells get established.