HOUSTON – House fires, explosions and accidents can take people close to death and rob them of their largest organ: the skin.
“Burns are absolutely one of the most devastating diseases known to man," said Dr. David N. Herndon, chief of staff and director of research at the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Galveston. When they're over 30 percent of the body they can be lethal.
The list of physical and emotional complications from burn wounds goes on and on, and Herndon said with standard care (mesh skin grafting), the pain can last for weeks or even months.
“A second-degree burn traditionally has had to be washed twice a day and topical anti-microbial placed upon it -- a very painful process for the patient, a very painful process for the person helping the patient to wash and apply those substances” Herndon, who is also the director of burn services at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said.
That's why RenovaCare's SkinGun is particularly interesting to burn units such as UTMB and Shriners Hospital in Galveston.
“Overall, I’m very hopeful that stem cells can be used safely in burn patients,” Herndon said. “This isn't the final answer, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.”
The SkinGun claims to take a postage-size sample of skin and extract the patient's own stem cells, then spray them onto the wound, avoiding skin grafts entirely. Plus, RenovaCare said, this does not have any legal limitations because the stem cells are not manipulated.
“I think this should work, in my mind, without exposing the patients to risk," Herndon said. "(There's) nothing but benefit, so I feel strongly this will be approved."
The company that makes the product is based in Berlin. By Skype, the CEO and president of RenovaCare, Thomas Bold, said the treatment is not yet available in the United States, but it should be.
“Normally, a wound heals from the edges to the middle, and the larger the wound and the longer the process takes, the higher is the risk for inflammation and scarring," Bold said. "What we are doing with our system, we are placing thousands and thousands of little regenerative islands throughout the wound. Those islands, those stem cells, connect to each other and close the wound really faster."
He said the best news is that they've learned with a couple of people in experimental trials that the spray heals with little to no scarring.
Bold referenced a state trooper from Pennsylvania.
“He had like a huge burn," he said. "His entire side was burned with severe second-degree burn and he said, ‘I was treated on Friday and I walked out of the hospital on Monday.’”
Herndon said this could one day alleviate a lot of suffering, but he still thinks the cure for large wounds is a ways off.
“I think the concept of using stem cells to help burn patients is revolutionary and will be used in the next decade,” Herndon said.
Bold said they don't know the treatment's shortfalls yet, because they haven't had enough clinical tests. They're working to get those started.
“Our next steps will be figuring out the efficiency and safety of the product and with the relevant clinical studies, but this we need to discuss and negotiate with the FDA, but these will be our next steps,” Bold said.