Recently in The Skin Category

March 3, 2011

A New Way to Regenerate Skin for Victims of Third-Degree Burns


Before I get to the topic in the headline, here's a quick story: As I've written about in past blog entries, even the most mundane situations inside the home can result in third-degree burns. Another example came to light this week in Worthington, VA, where a routine cooking accident severely burned a man and damaged much of the home.

It was this simple: A visitor to the home accidentally splashed oil from a deep fryer onto the stove and onto the floor. Unfortunately, the oil landed on the visitor's hands and feet, instantly causing second- and third-degree burns that required treatment at the West Penn Burn Center across the state border. Furthermore, the splashed oil also caused the window curtains to catch fire. Fire crews from four towns had to respond to the fire. The family now lives in a hotel temporarily, thanks to the American Red Cross.

Now for the good news that this blog's title refers to. The web site InHabitat.com reported this week that scientists from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are advancing in their goal to regenerate more of a person's own healthy skin to repair burn damage on another part of the body. Inspired by, of all things, the typical office printer and its ink cartridge, the research team believes it could soon "print" human skin.

Speaking to CNN, Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the institute, said that the project starts with duplicating a burn victim's healthy skins cells in a lab. Then, "the next step is to put the cells in the printer, in a cartridge, and literally print on the patient." The bio-printer is expected to be a converted office printer, but with the addition of a three-dimensional "elevator" that builds on damaged tissue with fresh layers of healthy skin. The printer is placed over the wound, allowing the flat-bed scanner to "move back and forth and put cells on the victim," Atala said. The cells then harden, mature and grow into new skin.

The team believes that this treatment could be a reality within five years. The project is currently in pre-clinical phases. Among the first victims who likely will test the treatment are wounded soldiers returning from combat. According to the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, burns account for between five and 20 percent of combat-related injuries. As a result, the Wake Forest institute will receive approximately $50 million in funding from the US Department of Defense.

It is not just the Wake Forest Institute that is working on this procedure. Other universities, including Cornell University and the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, are also working on similar projects and announced their research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference this month.

And the next challenge for these scientists: Creating new organs from this same process.

February 8, 2011

A Bad Week for Fires, but Good News Arrives for Victims of Severe Burns

The cold weather blanketing much of the United States in this first week of February is causing many incidents of fire as people try to keep warm. For instance, in suburban New York, five firefighters were hospitalized with smoke inhalation after battling a basement house fire. One of those firefighters was in critical but stable condition and undergoing hyperbaric chamber treatment before going into the intensive care unit.

A local fire marshal said the blaze was not suspicious; the fire broke out around lunchtime and took about an hour to get under control. The firefighters were injured while in the basement, where there was a sudden eruption of flames, said one police detective. A fire chief added that "the fire at one point flared up on them," probably from a rush of oxygen that came into the basement from a door or an area of wall being opened to the outside. See a video of the fire here.

The lesson here: If you have a fire in your home, it is best to simply close the door to the room where the fire is burning and immediately go outside your home to call the fire department -- do not try to put out the fire yourself! In fact, closing a door or window as you leave will actually help to starve the fire of the fuel it needs to burn -- oxygen.

A second recent fire holds another lesson for all of us. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a warehouse of costumes that were to be worn during the upcoming Carnival holiday went up in flames. The most notable aspect of this fire, though, was how quickly the warehouse burned. The reason: Costume clothing is generally much more flammable than everyday clothing. Parents should keep this fact in mind, because just one moment of carelessness around the house--such as laying down a child's costume near a source of heat, or holding a birthday candle too close to a child wearing a costume -- can cause third-degree burns to someone wearing or holding a costume.

Happily, I end today's blog with good news for burn victims. Dr. Jorg Gerlach of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh has developed a technique whereby a spray gun can "shoot" a patient's own stem cells onto burn-damaged skin to treat and heal burns more quickly. So a second-degree burn -- a burn that penetrates the entire outer layer of the skin into the inner skin layer -- can disappear within days. The spray nozzle, using a patient's own cells, helps to cover the wounded area just like a paint gun would cover a wall. "The most critical cells are present, and we are using those cells right away from the patient. We just need to take care that we are distributing the cells nicely over the wound."

Normally, sheets of skin are grown over the course of a month, and patients sometimes die of infection during the wait. In contrast, the new approach takes just 90 minutes and burns can heal in as little as four days, Gerlach said. The skin gun was featured on the National Geographic Channel this week. See the video here Or read more about the process here.

February 23, 2010

The Skin (Part II)

The Dermis:

This is the second layer of the skin under the epidermis, it cushions the body from stress and strain, this layer contains nerve endings, sebaceous glands, sweat glands, hair follicles and blood and lymphatic vessels.
The nerve endings in our dermis tell us how things feel when we touch them; they work with our brain and nervous system so that the brain gets the message about what we are touching. The dermis is also full of tiny blood vessels that keep the skin cells healthy by bringing them oxygen and nutrients they need and by taking away waste. The sebaceous glands secrete sebum which is an oily matter that keeps the skin lubricated and water proof, these glands are present throughout the skin except the hands and feet; they are in greatest abundance on the face and scalp. The sweat glands help in the regulation of body temperature by releasing sweat through pores on the skin. The hair follicle grows hair and attached to it is the sebaceous gland; about 50-100 hairs are shed daily from a normal scalp.

The Hypodermis (subcutaneous tissue):

This layer lies below the dermis and attach the skin to underlying bone and muscle as well as supplying it with blood vessels and nerves. It consists of loose connective tissue and elastin (a protein which play a role in the elasticity of skin). The hypodermis contains 50% of body fat. Fat serves as padding and insulation for the body.

This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice; it should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.

February 22, 2010

The Skin (Part I)

The skin is the largest organ in the body that has many important functions which include the following:


  1. It protects the body from infection by preventing the invasion of harmful organisms.

  2. It protects the body from dehydration by preventing the loss of excessive fluids.

  3. It participates in the regulation of body temperature and protects the body from abrupt temperature changes.

  4. It protects the body against sun burns.

  5. It protects the internal tissues and organs.

  6. It helps excrete waste materials through perspiration.

  7. It generates vitamin D through the exposure to sun light and stores vitamin D.

  8. It has receptors through which we feel heat, cold, pain, pressure and touch.


The skin is made up of three layers: 1) Epidermis, 2) Dermis, 3) Hypodermis

The Epidermis:

It is the outermost layer of the skin which is the part of the skin that we can see, it is composed of five layers from inside to outside they are, Stratum basale, Stratum spinosum, Stratum granulosum, Stratum lucidum and Stratum corneum. The epidermis is continuously making new cells to replace the old ones, this process starts at the bottom of the epidermis moving toward the top of epidermis, the process takes between two to four weeks, as the newer cells continue to move up, older cells near the top die and rise to the surface of skin. 95% of the cells of the epidermis work to make new skin cells, the other 5% make a substance called melanin. Melanin is a pigment responsible for skin color, the darker the skin is the more melanin there is. Melanin protects us from getting burned by the sun's ultraviolet rays that is why when we go out into the sun these cells make extra melanin to protect us from getting burned and that's why our skin gets tan if we spend a lot of time in the sun. Melanin can't protect the body by itself therefore we wear sunscreens and protective clothing such as a hat to prevent painful sunburns, protecting the skin also can help prevent skin cancer.

This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice; it should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.