Replacement skin offers hope for burn victims

28 January 2010

Skin grafts for burn victims may become a thing of the past thanks to a federal government grant announced today that will support world-first research into ready-made skin replacements for third and second degree burns.

Professor Tony Weiss from the University of Sydney's School of Molecular and Microbial Sciences has been awarded the $323,747 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) development grant to help him progress his invention Elastaderm to human trials.

Elastaderm is an improved human skin substitute for treating burns. It is a substantial development beyond existing burn treatment technology because it is intended to reduce wound contraction and increase elasticity.

It is hoped Elastaderm could improve the current treatment for many burns patients, especially children who often find skin taken from skin grafts does not grow and move with their body. This causes much discomfort and usually requires multiple operations to fix.

"What we have discovered is a way to make a practical replica of the natural elastin found in human tissue," Professor Weiss said.

"So if the research continues to yield positive results we would hope to be able to apply our pre-made skin to a clean wound site, which would be more effective than using skin taken from another part of the body."

"This would save burn victims from another medical procedure, a skin graft, in the midst of their trauma."

NHMRC development grants are awarded with the aim of assisting scientists to progress their research out of the laboratory and into practical use. Professor Weiss is conducting his research with paediatric burns expert Professor Roy Kimble from the University of Queensland, as well as collaborating on related research with Professor Peter Maitz from the University of Sydney.

Professor Weiss says preliminary animal trials have yielded positive results and the development grant will support his research team as they move towards human trials.

"It would be a world-first development to have a skin substitute that is able to stretch as the body grows and moves," Professor Weiss said.

"I am very excited about this stage of the research and what we can hopefully achieve from this world-leading activity. I think there are so many ways we can build parts of the body out of elastic components and achieve better treatment outcomes."

Media contact: Sarah Stock, 0419 278 715,