"Skin cell gun" regenerates cells in days

By spraying healthy stem cells onto damaged areas, the skin cell gun cuts burn victims' recovery time drastically

Published February 5, 2011 1:05AM (EST)

Our skin is fragile, penetrable and flammable. Simply surviving immolation is a statistical feat, and the recovery process is slow and precarious. Every year, thousands survive the immediate effects of skin burns but die from infections while waiting for their skin to heal over the exposed flesh.

Researchers at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine devised a tool to cut recovery time drastically and save lives. Their sci-fi-sounding "skin cell gun" trounces the traditional technique of grafting healthy skin onto a burn victim's damaged body -- a process that can take weeks and months -- by spraying healthy stem cell tissue through an airbrush-type nozzle.

Doctors harvest the stem cells from the victim's body, add them to a water solution and spray them onto burned areas. Rather than weeks or months, the healing process takes hours and days. One man with second-degree burns came in for treatment on a Friday and left completely healed by Monday.

"If we can find a way to get normal healthy skin, as much as we want, within a week, that's the Holy Grail," one researcher said. But if the dozen patients successfully treated with the gun are any indication, we may have already found it. 

Warning: The video below contains graphic images of burned skin.

By Michelle Fitzsimmons

Michelle Fitzsimmons is an editorial fellow at Salon.com.

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