Burns are one of the more difficult health crises to treat, especially those that cover large areas of the body. Risks of scarring and infections remain high despite the advancements in treatments. One of the most promising new therapies is the use of stem cells to speed healing and decrease the risk of scarring and infections.
Burns are classified into six different degrees, from the mildest to the most severe.
The more severe a burn, the more difficult it can be to treat them.
Risks from burns includes scarring and infection.
Healthcare providers use several different techniques to decrease those risks. Skin grafts, three dimensional printed matrixes, and artificial skin are currently in use.
One of the most promising new treatments involves the use of stem cells and their natural ability to aid in healing and boosting the immune response.
Types of burns
Burns are caused by excessive heat being applied to your body. How bad the burn depends on how hot it gets, where it is located, and how long it lasts. Medical professionals categorize burns into two classes — partial thickness and full thickness burns. Most people have heard of first, second, and third-degree burns, but the categorizations are more specific.
The fist class burns have partial thickness and are categorized as follows:
|Partial thickness burn degree
|Burns are only in the top layer of skin and they heal without scarring.
|Second degree superficial
|Burns are red, blister, and look wet. They are painful but heal with little scarring.
|Second degree deep
|Burns are yellow/white, dry, and decrease sensation in the area. They heal with scarring.
The second class of burns are full thickness and they are categorized as follows:
|Full thickness burn degree
|White/brown/block with a leathery feeling. All skin and soft tissues underneath are involved. Treatment requires skin grafting.
|Skin charred, bone might be seen.
|Skin charred, bone is seen.
|Skin is gone and the bone is exposed.
Traditional treatment of burns
Burns are treated based on their stage and location. As the stages increase, the complexity of treatment increases. First-degree burns are treated at home with moisture and protection while it heals. Second-degree burns require medical intervention to have the wound cleaned and bandaged correctly.
Full-thickness burns also require medical intervention — IV fluids, surgery, special dressings, and skin grafts to replace the skin that was lost. Even with modern medicine, healing takes time and scaring tends to be a major problem.
Plastic surgery with healed burns
When burns require skin grafting, due to the scarring that occurs, healed burns will require further management. The extent of the burns directs what therapies and surgeries will need to be done.
The goal of plastic surgery is to decrease the amount of scar tissue and improve the function and look of the area. Multiple surgeries might be needed, but they will not be able to fully remove all of the scars.
New treatment methods for burns
Scientists and healthcare professionals continue to look for new and improved ways of treating burns. Besides scarring, burn victims have an increased risk of severe infections. The longer the tissues below the skin remain uncovered by the protection of the skin, the higher the risk of infections.
The more severe burns destroy the cells that regenerate tissues, including skin cells. Without these cells, the body will need to grow tissues, and scars, to cover the area. Scars are made of a fibrous material called collagen. This tissue grows fast and is not as diversified as the original tissues. The fast growth helps to decrease the time the underlying tissues remain exposed. The formation of scar tissue still takes a long time.
Modern medicine has developed ways to decrease this time. Using tissue, a surgeon can place a graft over the burned area. This graft can be taken from the person or a donor. Artificial tissue can also be used, but tends to be very expensive to create.
Research continues into other methods of grafting. Spraying cells directly into the wound bed to provide the needed cells is one way. Another is a three dimensional (3D) printing of cells and cell layers. One of the most promising therapies is the use of stem cells.
Regenerative burn treatment
Stem cells are cells that have the potential to become many different types of cells. Research has shown that these cells aid in healing and decrease the amount of scar tissue created. There is also an indication that they will also help the immune system, thereby decreasing the risk of infection.
Researchers are currently looking for the best ways to deliver the stem cells to the wound bed of the burn. They are working with using direct injection into the area as well as using a scaffold to hold the cells into place at the burn site.
Research into stem cell therapy in the treatment of burns is ongoing. More information is needed on how safe this new treatment might be and how exactly stem cells can fully help in the healing process. It is a promising new therapy and can offer hope to those who experience full-thickness burns.
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- University of Michigan Surgery. Reconstructive Burn Surgery.
- International Journal of Burns and Trauma. he effects of stem cells on burn wounds: a review.
- Biologics: Targets and Therapy. Stem Cell Therapy for Burns: Story so Far.