Researchers look at stem cells for burn victim skin repair

Researchers at the University of Calgary are trying to find a way to improve skin grafts for burn victims with stem cells.

University of Calgary researchers probe ways to make skin grafts more like normal skin

A researcher at the University of Calgary works on a project to improve skin grafts for burn victims. (CBC)

Researchers at the University of Calgary are hoping skin stem cells will improve skin grafts for burn victims.

The project is focused on people who require skin grafts after a deep burn injury where many layers of skin have been destroyed.

Right now, doctors only use the outer layers, or epidermis, to repair the wound, but those layers lack some important functions found in deeper skin, or dermis.

"The dermis is important because that's where all the nerve endings, the hair follicles, the oil glands and sweat glands are," said Dr. Vincent Gabriel.

Don Adamson required 15 surgeries to repair his skin after his gas tank exploded while he was driving home.

Adamson says  he found the new skin simply did not work the same way after the skin grafts.

"I noticed [the] first time I went out and tried to shovel snow I nearly froze my hands and I didn't know it," said Adamson.

Dr. Jeff Biernaskie says this project will try to recreate normal skin.

"It may be possible to generate dermal stem cells from the patient and actually transplant them into the skin graft in order to regenerate the dermis and improve the overall function of that grafted skin."

Researchers estimate about 1,500 skin grafts are performed in Alberta each year.

The lead doctors in this project explains their research in the video below, courtesy of Alberta Innovates Health Solutions.