University of Calgary

Skin deep

UToday HomeFebruary 11, 2013

Researchers Jeff Bernaskie and Vincent Gabriel with burn victim Don Adamson who will benefit from their work. Photo by Trudie Lee, supplied by Alberta Innovates – Health SolutionsResearchers Jeff Bernaskie and Vincent Gabriel with burn victim Don Adamson who will benefit from their work. Photo by Trudie Lee, supplied by Alberta Innovates – Health SolutionsResearchers at the University of Calgary are investigating new and novel ways to improve wound healing for burn survivors. Jeff Biernaskie, PhD, and Vincent Gabriel, MD, are among the first recipients of the Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS) Collaborative Research and Innovation Opportunities (CRIO) Project funding.

Biernaskie and Gabriel have garnered significant media interest recently for their work exploring new ways to use adult stem cells to improve the function of split thickness skin grafts. Skin grafts are currently the best treatment for serious burns, but they lead to loss of skin sensation and function, loss of hair follicles, and altered appearance. The deep layers of skin — known as the dermis — are missing and as a result, patients suffer from chronic pain and itching, limited mobility, and psychological issues resulting from the skin grafts’ appearance.

Biernaskie, a researcher in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary, and Gabriel, a physician in the burn unit at the Foothills Medical Centre and a member of the University of Calgary's Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute, decided to collaborate because they were dissatisfied with current burn treatment options. They are looking to regenerate a burn survivor’s own dermis, transplant it to the skin grafted wound area, and restore the skin’s normal healthy function.

“Drs. Gabriel and Biernaskie demonstrate the benefits that result when researchers and clinicians work together to tackle priority health issues. Their dynamic collaboration promises to transform treatments for burn victims and that is what our goal is at AIHS: to make a difference in peoples’ health and wellbeing,” says AIHS’s acting CEO, Pamela Valentine, PhD. “On behalf of our Board of Directors, I want to congratulate all recipients of this year’s CRIO Project funding.”

A critical partner in this research project is the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society (CFBTS).

“Firefighters are at great risk for burn injuries and it is exciting to be involved with the front-line researchers who are developing groundbreaking advancements in wound healing,” says Ross Pambrun, a fire fighter with the Calgary Fire Department, and also treasurer for the CFBTS. The CBFTS has contributed an additional $300,000 dollars to the three-year project.

Twenty-one successful CRIO Projects were awarded to small research groups around Alberta working on such topics as perinatal stroke, deep brain stimulation to treat resistant depressive disorders, and cell therapy for nerve and spinal cord repair. CRIO Project funding will provide up to $750,000 over three years to the Biernaskie-Gabriel collaboration.