Scientists at San Antonio's Southwest Research Institute are participating in a groundbreaking project sponsored by the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine to actually try to grow new skin on the faces of wounded warriors which are horribly scarred by combat wounds or burns, 1200 WOAI news reports.
"We hope that it looks as close as possible to the original patient before the trauma occurred," Dr. Joseph A. McDonough, PhD, director of the Microencapsulation and Nanomaterials Department at SwRI told 1200 WOAI news.
The process involves using collagen, which is the main component of the body's connective tissue, combined with the patients' own stem cells and other proteins, to create a new skin which will be formed over a mask made from the patient's own face.
"The contour is already put in place and held in place with a mask to prevent a scarring, and then we are loading that up with various agents, including stem cells," he said.
McDonough says the active ingredient in the collagen used is fetal cow tissue, the skin of unborn calves.
It is a daunting multi year program, to treat what Dr. XingGuo Cheng of the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division, says is among the most challenging facet of reconstructive medicine.
"Facial injuries resulting from explosives, gunshot wounds, and burns are common among combat soldiers and represent one of the greatest challenges to would care," he said. Cheng points out that unlike other parts of the body, the topography of the human face has many curves which are difficult to cover effectively with traditional skin grafts.
Although researchers have made great strides in artificial limbs, the blotching and scarring on the face of a burn victim remains a noticeable reminder of the victim's trauma.
McDonough says the new skin, which has already been molded to the contours of the patient's face by the mask, will then be applied to the patient's face.
"The mechanical applied contour should greatly minimize scarring, and minimize multiple surgeries," he said.
He says if successful, the technology could be transferred to civilian burn, accident, and trauma patients, as well as to regeneration of the hands and feet, which also have the same challenging characteristics of the face.