Burns are some of the most challenging skin wounds to treat. Severe burns can lead to serious complications such as shock from fluid loss. Keeping bacteria from infecting the damaged tissue is also very difficult. Scarring is often extensive and may impair function. Medical researchers are doing their best to develop new techniques and tools for burn treatment. These include the use of lasers for minimizing atrophic scarring. However, laser scar therapy is done after a wound has healed. Here are several treatments that may be used earlier in the healing process:
Modern Silver Gel Fights Germs
Silver has long been used as an antimicrobial agent in textiles and in water purification. It also played an important role in preventing infection before the introduction of antibiotics into the field of medicine. Now, medical researchers are using silver to help heal wounds again. Scientists in India are currently exploring the use of gel containing silver nanoparticles for treating burns topically.
Nanoparticles can penetrate more effectively into tissue than older formulations containing silver. At the same time, lower concentrations of the metal can be used which means side effects such as skin discoloration and tissue damage are minimized. So far, testing has shown that the silver gel can kill a broad range of bacteria – including some that are resistant to antibiotic drugs.
Scientists at the University of Michigan are also experimenting with nanoemulsion lotion for burn victims. They hope that by promoting fast healing of second degree burns, the need for extensive skin grafts can be reduced.
Skin Grafting Advances
Some burn patients do not have sufficient healthy tissue available for use in a skin graft. In other cases, the additional surgical trauma of harvesting donor skin would be inadvisable for the patient’s health. Skin from deceased donors who are a good tissue match may be used in some cases. However, like other organs, the demand far exceeds the supply.
Artificial skin is one option that may be considered in these situations. This is not an actual replacement for real skin. Instead, it provides a matrix that supports new dermal tissue as it grows in to cover the wound. After the dermis has begun to grow back, a thin layer of donor epithelial cells can be laid over this new tissue. The body can use these cells as building blocks to create the top layer of skin (epidermis). Under some conditions, it is even possible to grow more of a patient’s own skin in a laboratory for use in grafting.