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New Skin Grows Over Third Degree Burn Injuries, Thanks to Hydrogel

A recent article from the Institute for NanoBioTechnology discussed the developments that Johns Hopkins researchers have made in creating a jelly-like material for burn wound treatment which, in early experiments on skin damaged by severe burns, seemed to regenerate healthy tissue with no sign of the previous burn scars.

In a mid-December report from the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers reported their promising results from tests using mouse tissue. The new treatment has not yet been tested on human patients, but the researchers say that the procedure, which promotes the formation of new blood vessels and skin, could lead to greatly improved healing for victims of third degree burns.

The treatment involved a simple wound dressing that included a specially designed hydrogel: a water-based, three-dimensional framework of polymers. This material was developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering, working with clinicians at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Burn Center and the School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology.

Third degree burns typically destroy the several layers of skin right down to the muscle tissue. They require complex medical care and leave behind significant scars. But in the journal article, the Johns Hopkins team reported that its hydrogel method yielded much better results than typical outcomes. “This treatment promoted the development of new blood vessels and the regeneration of complex layers of skin, including hair follicles and the glands that produce skin oil,” said Sharon Gerecht, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, who was principal investigator on the study.

Gerecht said that the hydrogel could form the basis of an inexpensive burn wound treatment that works better than currently available clinical therapies, adding that the product would be easy to manufacture on a large scale. Gerecht suggested that because the hydrogel contains no drugs or biological components to make it work, the Food and Drug Administration would most likely classify it as a device. Further animal testing is planned before trials on human patients begin, but Gerecht said that “it could be approved for clinical use after just a few years of testing.”

John Harmon, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and director of Surgical Research at Bayview, described the mouse study results as “absolutely remarkable…We got complete skin regeneration, which never happens in typical burn wound treatment,” he said.

Gerecht says that the hydrogel is constructed in such a way that it allows tissue regeneration and blood vessel formation to occur very quickly. “Inflammatory cells are able to easily penetrate and degrade the hydrogel, enabling blood vessels to fill in and support wound healing and the growth of new tissue,” she said. For burns, Gerecht added, the faster this process occurs, the less there is a chance for scarring. After 21 days, the gel is harmlessly absorbed, and the tissue continues to return to the appearance of normal skin.

If the treatment succeeds in human patients, it could address a serious form of injury. Harmon, a co-author of the NAS journal article, pointed out that 100,000 third degree burns are treated in the U.S. every year in burn centers.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.