We’re answering your questions about artificial skin.
My friend had a bad burn on her hand. She mentioned that the doctor used artificial skin on her hand. What is artificial skin anyway?
Artificial skin is a term used to describe a group of products used to treat burns and other wounds. Skin is the largest organ in our body. You can think of it as a fortress. Its chief purpose is to provide protection to the structures inside our bodies as well as to keep our body temperature regulated. A burn or a wound is a hole in that fortress that makes us susceptible to infections or loss of important fluids. Our skin has a remarkable ability to heal itself, but sometimes an injury may involve an area so large that the body cannot heal fast enough to prevent complications. Sometimes these wounds can be covered with skin grafts from elsewhere on the body. However, this can be painful, and, if the area is very large, a skin graft may not be possible. Artificial skin can be one way that these areas can be covered.
What are they made of and how do they work?
There are several different types of artificial skin, but they all are created to replace one or more layers of skin. Artificial skin is produced by bioengineering different types of skin cells. Some are made using a patient’s own skin cells, tissue from donated cadavers, animal tissue cells, or a combination of these. How they work is dependent on the skin function they are attempting to replace. One example is an artificial skin product that works like a “scaffold” where a sheet covers the wound and creates a bed across which the patient’s own skin cells can grow. Another type can be sprayed into a wound to create the scaffold. These would still require a skin graft, but now a much smaller and thinner graft can be used. Newer research is creating artificial skin that replicates all of the skin layers, eliminating the need for a skin graft. A surgeon examines a burn or wound carefully to determine which option would be most appropriate.
My friend mentioned that she saw a hand therapist. What can a hand therapist do for a patient with artificial skin?
Early on, a hand therapist may assist with caring for the wound after surgery. They have special training in the kinds of dressings and bandages that are needed, how to protect the wound and the artificial skin, and they may make an orthosis that will protect the area during healing. Once the artificial skin has done its job and the patient’s wound is closed, the hand therapist may need to help manage scar that has formed and help the patient regain motion and function in the affected body part.
For more information about hand therapists and how they can help you with these and other types of conditions, please visit: https://www.asht.org/patients
If you would like to find a hand therapist in your area, please visit: https://www.asht.org/find-a-therapist
Kimberly Masker, OTD, OTR/L, CHT, is a Certified Hand Therapist, and is a member of the American Society of Hand Therapists and an affiliate member of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.