Science & Tech
Calgary researchers revolutionize skin grafting by using burn victims own stem cells

Dr Jeff Biernaskie PhD (L) with burn patient Don Adamson.

Credits: STUART DRYDEN/CALGARY SUN/QMI AGENCY

BILL KAUFMANN | QMI AGENCY

CALGARY - Using injury victims' own stem cells could revolutionize skin grafting for the severely injured, say University of Calgary researchers.

For now, skin grafts don't have a deep layer, called the dermis, that leads recipients to lack sensation, function, hair growth and proper colour, said Dr. Jeff Biernaskie.

"You're missing a major component of the skin, by using just the top layer," he said.

"We take dermal skin cells from another part of the body, grow them in a dish and apply them to the graft where they can begin to divide and create new dermal cells and hopefully re-create the function."

The researchers are seeking to isolate specific types of stem, or growth cells - in this case those centring around hair follicles - that would best match a graft.

It's hoped safety trials could commence on humans in five years.

The technique - which is only being researched in one other Canadian lab - could prove a breakthrough for cancer, burn and other trauma injury victims.

Don Adamson, who narrowly survived a Calgary car fire in 2005 that severely burned half of his body, said the approach could offer hope to other patients.

"I know what it'd mean to people to not go through so many skin grafts, have less scarring and a better quality of life," said Adamson, 62.

Adamson said his ability to detect temperature has gradually improved.

Over the next three years, the researchers will receive $1.125 million from the province and the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society.

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