Donated skin from brain dead victims can save lives of third degree burn victims
Hyderabad: Treating patients who have suffered third degree burns is an unenviable task for caregivers, as the mortality rate in such cases is always 100 per cent. Even a highly specialised healthcare facility struggles to save adults and kids if 40 to 50 per cent of the total body surface area is burnt.
Third degree burns are those that go deep and burn the layers of the skin up to the fat below. As a result, persons with such burns will have damaged nerve-endings and they won’t feel pain in the area of the burn. Invariably, they develop infections, sepsis, fluctuating and hard to control blood pressure and dehydration, which in the end proves to be fatal.
While it is a challenge to save lives of individuals who have suffered third-degree burns, advancements in modern medicine, technology and better understanding of burns has given a ray of hope in the form of skin grafts.
Skin grafts can be used to replace the damaged skin and allow the burnt area of patients to heal on its own and gradually recover. However, the concept of employing skin grafts to treat severe burn patients comes with its own challenges.
Among individuals who have suffered third-degree burns, there is hardly any normal uninjured skin left that can be taken out and grafted over the damaged skin. In such situations, a temporary skin graft can be sourced from deceased donors, till the time the skin of the burn victims heals.
To save lives of persons who have suffered third degree burns, Osmania General Hospital (OGH) had last year launched a skin bank to harvest skin from the deceased donors and use it to revive burn and trauma patients.
With the help of skin from deceased donors, the doctors can use it to spread over the patient’s burnt area. Along with the skin graft, maintaining proper fluids levels, controlling blood pressure, prevent shock and dehydration will allow the burnt area to heal and eventually the patient’s own skin will grow and replace the skin graft from the deceased donor.
Synthetic or artificial skins
Two US-researchers Ioannis Yannas and John Burke developed the first commercially reproducible artificial skin that can encourage and facilitate new skin growth. The researchers utilised polymers from shark cartilage and collagen from cowhide and created a skin that is as close to human skin.
The artificial skin developed by the duo would resist infection and rejection, protect against dehydration and allow the body to heal and the skin to grow against on its own.
However, artificial skin for burns is expensive in India and not everybody can afford it. At OGH, almost all the burn patients belong to economically weaker section and find it difficult to afford artificial skin for treatment. They depend on skin from deceased donors.
Unlike donor organs such as liver, kidney, heart and lungs, which have a shelf-life of just a few hours, the donated skin from deceased individuals can be stored for nearly five years in a skin bank. While awareness around organ donation has improved in the last few years, the same ca not be said about skin donation. Since the launch of the skin bank at OGH, not many family members of the brain dead victims have come forward to donate the skin of the deceased.
The skin bank at OGH harvests skin from deceased donors after receiving consent from relatives of the dead person. The skin will be processed and preserved in a skin bank and later distributed to needy burn patients, based on organ donation guidelines.