This enhanced man-made skin graft helps burn victims heal

By combining collagen skin grafts with healthy skin cells, an MIT researcher created a scaffold that heals burn victims faster.

The two worlds of clinical surgery and manufacturing have just taken a valuable step forward together. Two scientists at MIT have developed technology that could improve wound healing, specifically burn damage to the skin. It is a process of infusing healthy cells with a man-made skin graft to restore the injury much more effectively.

Dennis Orgill and Ioannis Yannas are the scientists at the helm of this novel technology. With an extensive background in polymer science, Yannas invented the first successful method of skin regeneration for burn victims in the early 1980s along with his collaborator at the time, surgeon John Burke. Years later, MIT student Orgill started working alongside Yannas to explore new ways to boost tissue restoration and build further on Yannas' body of research.

“My group has been conducting research on how automated forces are helping wounds to heal,” says Yannas. “The concept of combining cells with the scaffold and adding mechanical forces is going to be a powerful way to move forward.”

In essence, they are working on technology that acts like living tissue. Orgill devised a recipe for imbuing a collagen skin graft or “scaffold” with healthy tissue cells taken from a different part of the patient’s body. These cells are distributed evenly across the collagen structure and when applied to the wound, the cell-infused graft was found to reinforce healing even better than the original designs of Yannas and Burke. Restoring the interior layer of the skin, Orgill’s cell-seeded scaffold can also regenerate the outer layer of the skin at the same time. 

According to him, the ability to examine medical problems from the perspective of an engineer has made him a more effective surgeon. Orgill believes the field of biomedical engineering is growing globally and it won’t be long before our hospital operating rooms are run by doctors with engineering degrees.

“I think people will recognise that medicine is going to be better if we have more engineering incorporated into it as a way of thinking,” says Orgill. “That’s how we can solve quality, efficiency, and cost problems in the medical field.”

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