Engineering full thickness human skin for the treatment of burn injury

Testing new methods of engineering large areas of full-thickness skin grafts for burns patients

Professor Rod Dunbar
University of Auckland

What is the problem and who is affected?

Burn injury is a leading cause of injury to children in New Zealand. Every year in New Zealand, approximately 475 children under 15 years are admitted to hospital as a result of burns or scalds; 80% of these are five years or under. Maori are over-represented in burn injury statistics, comprising over a third of children under five admitted to hospital and over a third of children who die from burn injury. The ACC reports the annual cost of burns to children in New Zealand at around $4M per year, however, it must also be noted that treatment of a single major burn case at the National Burn Centre can cost well over $100,000.

For major burn injuries, treatment is still slow, painful and fraught with risk – and even successful treatment carries long term side effects such as wound contracture. Current best practice at the National Burn Centre has reduced the mortality for a 50% burn, but successful treatment for a major burn injury still involves gruelling rounds of surgery.


What is the research hoping to achieve?

Professor Rod Dunbar from the University of Auckland have discovered a technique for growing full-thickness human skin in the lab. Using skin tissue obtained from patients undergoing elective surgeries, they’ve managed to use these cells to grow the human skin in the lab.
This has great potential to be transformative for the practice of treating burns. Children and adults alike would no longer be subjected to painful and invasive skin grafts and obtaining healthy skin from unburnt parts of the body would no longer be an issue.

While not yet available for human use, the research team are confident that human trials could commence as early as 2017.