sci-fi-like skin gun that sprays stem cells onto burned skin is the latest treatment in helping burn victims, scientists say. Dr. Jorg Gerlach of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh developed the gun, which sprays a solution of cells and water onto the damaged skin. While the device is still in its early prototype stages Gerlach told he has successfully treated about a dozen patients in Germany and the U.S. He hopes to have his final prototype ready in a few months so it can be tested under clinical trials. “Skin cell spraying is not new, it was invented around 20 years ago in Argentina; and it is (for example) also performed in Australia,” Gerlach told. “But with (a) hand-pumped atomizer, similar to (those) window-cleaning sprayers, we are developing an electronically, processor-controlled pneumatic device . . . that does not injure the cells during spraying. . . ” The gun sprays stem cells that have been collected from a small, thin layer of skin that has been grafted from patient’s own healthy skin, Gerlach explained. The process takes about 90 minutes. Among the handful of patients tested, the initial healing of the wound occurred within two weeks compared to traditional treatments, which take months and pose a risk for patients dying of infection. With Gerlach’s method, regeneration of the colour and skin texture takes several months, he said.

“At present we can only treat severe second-degree burns, but we are working on addressing third-degree burns, as well,” he said. For Matthew Uram, a Pennsylvania state police officer, Gerlach’s skin gun was life-changing. The 44-year-old was one of the first U.S. patients to be treated by the procedure after sustaining first- and second-degree burns to the right side of his face and body after someone poured gasoline onto a bonfire in July 2009 while Uram was standing nearby. When Uram went for treatment at UPMC Mercy Hospital’s burn centre, doctors directed him to Gerlach. Less than a week after the accident, Uram was treated with the gun. “I had nothing to lose,” Uram, 44, told the Star. “I was in so much pain.” Uram’s right shoulder and entire right arm from his wrist up to his neck were treated with the gun. Nearly a year and a half later, he said he has no pain, no tightness and only a little discolouration around his neck. “I don’t know if it was psychological or not, but when the solution was spayed on, it felt cool and was relaxing,” Uram said. “It’s almost as if it never happened.” The skin gun is featured on an episode about the science of tissue engineering on the National Geographic Channel.