Published Thursday, February 7, 2013 4:36PM MST
Last Updated Thursday, February 7, 2013 6:35PM MST
Two Calgary doctors are among the first to receive funding from Alberta Innovates and will use the money to find new ways to improve wound healing for burn survivors.
Dr. Jeff Biernaskie and Dr. Vincent Gabriel are researching new ways to use adult stem cells to improve the function of split thickness skin grafts.
“Drs. Gabriel and Biernaskie demonstrate the benefits that result when researchers and clinicians work together to tackle priority health issues. Their dynamic collaboration promises to transform treatments for burn victims and that is what our goal is at AIHS: to make a difference in peoples’ health and wellbeing,” says AIHS’s acting CEO, Pamela Valentine, PhD. “On behalf of our Board of Directors, I want to congratulate all recipients of this year’s CRIO Project funding.”
Right now, skin grafts are still the best treatment for serious burns but they can lead to loss of skin sensation and function, loss of hair follicles, and altered appearance.
The deep layers of skin are missing so patients can suffer from chronic pain and itching, limited mobility, and psychological issues because of the skin graft.
Biernaskie and Gabriel joined forces because they were dissatisfied with current burn treatment options so they started looking into how to regenerate a burn survivor’s own dermis.
“The goal of this research is really to try to improve the outcomes of these grafts and my lab has been working on these dermal stem cells that reside within hair follicles. But what’s interesting about them is that they’re able to generate a variety of different dermal cell types,” said Dr. Biernaskie.
The idea is to take a biopsy of someone’s skin, isolate the dermal skin cells and grow millions of the cells to transplant back into the graft to regenerate the underlying dermis.
“So we’re trying to make those grafts better. So by providing a new layer of dermal tissue to interact with that graft that will hopefully improve some of the function that was lost,” said Dr. Biernaskie.
“If we can rebuild the patient’s dermis, using their own stem cells from their hair follicles, we can make the recipient site more flexible, make the sensation more normal and perhaps reduce the itching and contraction within the skin graft,” said Dr. Gabriel.
Don Adamson was burned eight years ago in a car fire and suffered burns to 50 percent of his body.
He is the Chairman of the Canadian Burn Survivor Community and says he is excited about the research and how it will be used in the future.
“I think it’s great that it would be enhancing treatment but at the same time give them a better life after treatment,” said Adamson.
The research team says it will be at least five years before clinical trials are underway.
The Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society (CFBTS) contributed an additional $300,000 dollars to the three year project.