The burn-healing stem cell gun might have some competition, as a new hydrogel could help develop new blood vessels and complex layers of skin that would mean quick healing and no scarring.
A hydrogel is a three-dimensional framework of polymers dispersed in water, and this one, researched at John Hopkins, might help third-degree burn victims, which is fairly unprecedented. It is mostly dextran, which is a polysaccharide (or sugar molecules). Though it sounds like a placebo, it's been pretty effective in healing third-degree burns.
Third-degree burns are ones that destroy not only the top layer of skin cells, but also muscle and blood vessels, making the healing process that much more difficult. And there are more than 100,000 third-degree burns a year, while treatment options remain somewhat limited.
The hydrogel acts as a medium, and the original plan was to load it with stem cells. Upon testing it alone — on mice, humans have yet to be tested — it ended up working by allowing inflammatory cells to penetrate and degrade the hydrogel, which allowed blood vessels to more easily help the regeneration process.
One important aspect of the hydrogel is the quicker the healing process, the less scarring.
The scientists are hopeful but admit that they are not sure how, exactly, the hydrogel is working, but it does seem to be working in animals. Human testing is the next step, but a little tricky because there are no biological or drug components to the hydrogel, leaving the FDA to probably classify it as a "device."
Red tape aside, this is an incredibly exciting advancement in medical science and could do a load of good for a load of people. Let's just hope that happens.