Health & Wellbeing

Hydrogel helps grow new scar-free skin over third degree burns

Hydrogel helps grow new scar-f...
Postdoctoral fellow Guoming Sun (left) and Sharon Gerecht, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, helped develop the burn-healing hydrogel
Postdoctoral fellow Guoming Sun (left) and Sharon Gerecht, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, helped develop the burn-healing hydrogel
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A recently-developed hydrogel allows new skin to grow over third-degree burns
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A recently-developed hydrogel allows new skin to grow over third-degree burns
Postdoctoral fellow Guoming Sun (left) and Sharon Gerecht, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, helped develop the burn-healing hydrogel
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Postdoctoral fellow Guoming Sun (left) and Sharon Gerecht, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, helped develop the burn-healing hydrogel

Third-degree burns typically require very complex treatment, and leave nasty scars once they've healed. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, however, are reporting success at treating such burns on lab mice, using a new type of hydrogel that grows new skin (as opposed to scar tissue) over burn sites. The gel contains no drugs or biological components - it's made mainly from water and dissolved dextran, which is a sugar-like polymer.

The team, led by principal investigator Sharon Gerecht, had originally planned on infusing the hydrogel with stem cells and growth factors. Due to processes they don't fully understand, however, the gel in its basic form was able to grow new skin - complete with hair follicles, blood vessels and skin oil glands. The growth process takes 21 days.

The scientists believe that the physical structure of the hydrogel could be guiding the tissue growth, and that it could be attracting bone marrow stem cells circulating in the blood stream, then signaling them to form into skin cells and blood vessels. One thing they do know is that inflammatory cells are able to easily penetrate and degrade the gel, allowing blood vessels to form quickly, which in turn supports new tissue growth.

A recently-developed hydrogel allows new skin to grow over third-degree burns
A recently-developed hydrogel allows new skin to grow over third-degree burns

Gerecht believes that the hydrogel should be inexpensive and easy to manufacture on a commercial scale, and that it could also be used to treat wounds such as skin ulcers. More animals trials are planned before human testing is able to begin, but because the gel is likely to be classified as a device and not as a medication, it could be approved for use within just a few years.

A paper on the Johns Hopkins research was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

15 comments
Gadgeteer
Sounds like an outstanding breakthrough, if it works out. Anyone who has ever seen the healed aftermath of a 3rd degree burn would agree that the stiff scars are at best unsightly and at worst limit range of motion.
Coder Guy
\"the gel in its basic form was able to grow new skin - complete with hair follicles, blood vessels and skin oil glands\"
Interesting, could it perhaps have an application treating Male Pattern Baldness?
Bill Bennett
Coder Guy, I hope that was sarcasm
Coder Guy
Hi Bill,
No not sarcasm, sorry if you took offence it was a genuine question. I understand it is not as important an application as treating burns - it\'s an excellent technology. I was just wondering if it could be used for this purpose. Merry Xmas BTW
Gary Richardson
I wonder if this gel can be applied topically to other skin conditions?
Joseph Shimandle
Coder- Good idea. It\'s not ever wrong to look for other uses for a new discovery. Even this turned out to work differently than the researched intended.
Can it be use to repair already heaeded with scar tissue 3rd degree burns if they surgically eemove the scar tissue and let new skin grow agian?
Marcus Carr
The idea that the researchers are intentionally giving mice third degree burns and then treating them makes me feel sick. I suspect they\'re pinning them down as well, to keep them from moving and spoiling the results. Take a bow, humanity...
Lazlo
Marcus- Actually no. If you follow the links, while it does not go into great detail about the process, they were surgically removing the burned skin before treating it. No need to pin down a mouse if the mouse is not attached to what you\'re treating. My suspicion is that the procedure involved either knocking out or killing the mouse before burning it and removing the skin. The mouse was likely killed after the removal of the skin if it was not killed before. In either case, I\'m sure the mice were treated with all due care up until they were needed. You probably don\'t find this much more palatable, but at least this way the mouse doesn\'t suffer while being used for the purpose for which it was bred and without which it would never have existed at all.
Racqia Dvorak
@Marcus Carr
Considering how many humans mice have killed, I\'m sure it\'d take a couple million more mice to make up the difference.
And you should try saying that to a burn victim. To their face. Which, if that\'s where they had their burn, will look like a halloween mask.
You insensitive little .....
Xander66
Marcus Carr - A number of years ago I had mice find there way into my home. They shit every where.....they broke into packaged food.....my young son tried to pick one up and was bitten....the bite got infected. Traps did not work so I resorted to poison that employed a blood thinner that resulted in the mice bleeding to death internally (like "Ebola"). It worked. It was probably painful. I didn't care then and I don't care now......because, it was a mouse......and I wanted it gone. It's painful death in no way served mankind.
If you are so worried about the comfort of the poor mouse, go to a burn ward and look into the eyes of a 9 year old girl with 3rd degree burns to half her face and assign a value to that girl's predicament, then compare it to the value you would assign to the discomfort that poor mouse had to endure in serving mankind to create a treatment for that 9 year old girl. (Clearly of infinitely more value than the mice I killed)
Now pretend that she is YOUR daughter and tell us if you would not use the treatment because of how it was tested.
Please reply with your choice. Me.....I value human life and health way, way, way more than that of any mouse and suggest you re-evaluate your priorities.
This is a wonderful break through - period.