Bioengineered skin breakthrough to revolutionise burns treatment

Researchers from The Alfred and the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences are developing bio-engineered skin that will undergo a large trial in third-degree burn patients, starting in 2023.

Victorian Adult Burns Centre director Adjunct Associate Professor Heather Cleland and head of the skin bioengineering laboratory Adjunct Associate Professor Shiva Akbarzadeh spoke to the Herald Sun about the cutting-edge technique. A/Prof Cleland also spoke on ABC Radio's Mornings program.

A/Prof Cleland said the breakthrough – more than 10 years in the  making - will be trialled at the unit in 2023.

“A successful trial will significantly enhance treatment outcomes,” A/Prof Cleland said.

“Over 40 per cent of burns survivors live with pain and disability caused by scarring of skin grafts and their donor sites.

“Development of the skin graft substitute to be tested in this study will save lives and improve the quality of life for survivors of severe burn injury by elimination of the need to use patients’ own unburned skin to graft  burns.

“This allows us to treat patients with severe burns with bioengineered skin developed in our laboratory, grown from small samples of their own skin.”

Despite many advancements in treatment options, the traditional split skin graft as a main method of closing burns wounds has not changed in more than 150 years.

A/Prof Shiva Akbarzadeh said the project, a collaboration between The Alfred and Monash University, brings new hope to burns patients.

“We believe, with taking advantage of stem cell science and material engineering, we can revolutionise burns treatment,” A/Prof Akbarzadeh said.

“By making new skin from patients’ own activated stem cells, we’ll be able to repair deep wounds and minimise the need for donor skin.

“This also allows us to modify the engineered skin as a treatment option for other skin loss conditions as we progress,” she said.

The project has been built on collaborative research amongst stem cell scientists, burns surgeons, and material engineers.

“This is truly a bench-to-bed side and back to bench story. Every step of the way has been designed based on what we’ve learnt from our previous clinical trials and feedbacks from the treating surgeons and  patients.” A/Prof Akbarzadeh said.

Burns Surgeon Dr Cheng Lo said the breakthrough is another step in further advancing patient care.

“As part of the Victorian state burns service, the laboratory plays an important role in seeking answers to the difficult questions, making sure our clinical service provision remains at the cutting edge, and ensuring our  patients get the best care possible,” he said.

“This breakthrough is a prime example of that.”

See more about the team's research at www.monash.edu/medicine/ccs/surgery-alfred/research/skin-tissue-lab