New method to treat burn patients
One thing that has been hitting the headlines in recent months is the rise of acid attacks, where corrosive substances have been thrown at people, causing severe damage to the skin and scarring. Dr Stuart Brown is a Scientist from The Restoration of Appearance and Function Trust, and joins us now. He’s part of a team that has developed a new material that could change how we treat acid attack and burn patients. Georgia - What happens to the skin if it has suffered a burn? Stuart - Where you’ve got a burn or an acid attack, you’ve really got a very serious injury to the skin. Often it’s very deep into the dermis and those sorts of things don’t heal very well on there own so you need to have surgical intervention. But you’ve got a problem where you’ve got a massive fused sort of glob of protein that the body doesn’t know to break down or get rid of, so the surgeon has to come along to take that off in order to let a normal healing process go ahead. Georgia - Burns can be extremely devastating so what is the current method to treat them? Stuart - The reconstructive surgery would really use skin grafts often. When you look at an acid attack it’s obviously on exposed areas of the skin, so it’s very important to have a good functional outcome where the skin is flexible and has the best appearance that you can as well. The skin graft is the normal way that they go, which is the best current technology but can definitely be improved upon. Georgia - Is that where you take skin from one part of the body and then move it? Stuart - From the same patient, yeah. So you're essentially displacing the wound to an area where you think will heal better and you're trying to give the original wound basically a new patch in a way. Georgia - Wow. So it’s quite a considerable treatment then. What have you come up with then that’s different? Stuart - Not just me alone, but it’s been in development for about ten years. We’ve come up with a product called SmartMatrix, and it’s basically a dermal scaffold. It’s a product which is like a structure for the skin to have a normal wound healing process upon. We’ve developed it with the aim of having the best function and esthetic appearance at the end. We’re quite excited about it because we think it will be able to take away the graft that is the current practice and actually just do better than the graft in a way. Georgia - Okay. So it’s a scaffolding - I’m guessing a very small scaffolding - that goes upon the affected area? Stuart - It’s almost like a sponge. It’s got a very specific composition and it’s got a very specific structure, and both of those things are very important for the way that the body reacts to it. It’s actually made from fibrin, which is a product that’s created from fibrinogen. When you get cut, as you were saying earlier, and you blood stops and it stops because a fibrin plug is created from fibrinogen in the blood, which just floats around in your body all the time. This fibrin plug has got a very different sort of structure to what we’ve done, so we’ve taken that fibrin plug and sort of spread it out and put lots of little holes in it. What that lets us do is it lets things colonise that a lot better so the wound healing response can go a bit better. It’s much better at getting a blood supply and that’s absolutely critical for a good wound healing outcome. Georgia - I can see you’ve got a packet of it - it’s called SmartMatrix - on the table here, so let’s have a look. We’ve got some here and looks like candy floss that’s been flattened I suppose. Stuart - It’s a very porous material. There’s very little protein - a lot of air there. We want something very light that the body will embrace quite well, and that it can send cells through very well. That’s part of the thing, you can put it in the wound and it will break down and disappear. You don’t have to go back in and take it out. As it breaks down it send out information, it sends out a signal to attract the blood supply as well, so we can have cells growing into it. It will send out signals to encourage the blood supply and we can the best wound healing outcome that we can. Georgia - Oh, wow. And we heard earlier that these acid attacks and burns are obviously massive problems for people, so how far are we along in this getting out to people? Stuart - We’ve been through one clinical trial and we’re doing another one next year, and the one next year we’re doing without the graft. We think within a couple of years it could be in the hands of surgeons, and it should give them a wider repertoire to pick up for more treatments that would then be suitable for these very challenging wounds like acid attacks. Georgia - Right. You mentioned earlier that skin grafts they need to take skin from another part of the already probably quite traumatised person and move it around. Are there any other benefits to using this new method? Stuart - It really comes down to skin grafts themselves. There are certain bad things associated with them. It’s just really the contraction and the risk of them failing as well. This can’t fail because it’s human protein and the body does not react to it in the way that it reacts to a graft that’s failing. Georgia - Have we seen any side effects from the fibrin as it breaks down in the body? Stuart - No, nothing. No, it’s been fine.