Genetically Altered Cells Show Promise for Burn Patients

Cultured skin graft therapy may prove to be alternative infection-control method, study says

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TUESDAY, Jan. 9, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Skin cells that have been genetically altered may be able to help artificial skin fight infection in burn patients, a new study found.

People with severe burns often receive cultured skin substitutes, which are grown in a laboratory using the burn patient's own skin. The skin cells are cultured, expanded and combined with collagen to make skin grafts that can be reattached to the burn wound.

"Cultured skin substitutes are improving the lives of many burn patients, but they also have limitations -- including an increased susceptibility to infection," Dorothy Supp, the study's lead researcher and an adjunct research associate professor at the University of Cincinnati, said in a prepared statement.

The study findings are published in the January issue of the Journal of Burn Care and Research.

Currently, doctors manage cultured skin graft infections by continually wrapping the wound in drug-soaked dressings during the early healing period. While this protects the skin grafts, said Supp, it can also lead to drug-resistant strains of bacteria.

Supp and her research team isolated a protein known as human beta defensin 4 (HBD4) from donated tissue samples and transferred it into surface skin cells. HBD4 is one of a class of proteins that helps the body fight off infection.

When the researchers infected the skin cells with pseudomonas aeruginosa, a type of bacteria common in hospitals, they found that the genetically altered cells containing HBD4 were more resistant to infection than unaltered cells.

"If it proves effective in additional testing, this type of gene therapy could be a promising alternative infection control method for burn wounds," Supp said.

Researchers hope to begin testing these altered skin grafts in animals early this year.

More information

The Johns Hopkins Burn Center has more about burns.

SOURCE: University of Cincinnati, news release, Jan. 8, 2007

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