Investigators: Jeff Biernaskie (project leader), University of Calgary; Vincent Gabriel, University of Calgary

Description: The surgical standard of care for deep burns and wounds is autologous split thickness skin grafting (STSG). It can be done quickly and may be lifesaving. Unfortunately, because only the superficial layers of skin can usually be harvested, STSGs do not contain the normal complement of dermal cells within them and thus are incapable of generating normal skin appendages (hair follicles, sweat and oil glands).

Consequently, STSGs are dry, hard, itchy, relatively insensate and aesthetically displeasing skin. We previously isolated and characterized a dermal stem cell that resides in mammalian hair follicles. These dermal stem cells function to induce hair follicle formation/regeneration and are important for maintenance and repair of the dermis. They can also generate multiple dermal cell types. More recently we have also isolated a similar precursor from the adult human skin. Based on these findings, we will ask whether human dermal stem cells are capable of replenishing dermal tissue within STSGs, and whether they improve the overall function of grafted skin. We are transplanting these adult human dermal precursor cells into a model of human STSG we developed. We are also evaluating non-invasive imaging techniques to measure outcomes in wound healing. Furthermore, we are conducting patient interviews with people whom have had STSG to collect information on their experiences living with skin grafts. With funding support from the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society, this will project will provide preliminary data and a patient centered guide for our future human clinical trials using a patient’s own stem cell transplants to improve outcomes in split thickness skin grafting, the most commonly performed surgery for deep burns and other wounds.

Benefits: The outcomes from this project will allow us to design and carry out patient-centered and clinically-relevant translational research into applying autologous skin precursors to modify outcomes in wound healing and split thickness skin grafting, the most common and gold standard of clinical surgical care in deep burns and wounds.

Term: 2011-12

Our thanks to the Stem Cell Network for this article.