A group of researchers from Tel Aviv University and Harvard University has devised a new noninvasive method to prevent burn scarring caused by the proliferation of collagen cells. They are using short, pulsed electric fields prevent the formation of burn-related hypertrophic scars — raised tissue caused by excessive amounts of collagen.
Research for the study was led by Dr. Alexander Golberg of TAU’s Porter School of Environmental Studies, together with Dr. Martin Yarmush of the Center for Engineering in Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Shriners Burns Hospital in Boston.
Ten percent of all unintentional-injury deaths are the result of fire-related burns, according to the World Health Organization. But even for those who survive the destruction of skin and tissue cells, the road to recovery is never ending. Post-burn scarring creates life-long physical, psychological and social challenges.
Relieving lifelong suffering
“People don’t die from scars, but they do suffer from them,” Dr. Golberg said. “We believe that the technology we developed, called partial irreversible electroporation (pIRE), can be used to prevent debilitating burn scars from forming.”
The noninvasive pIRE technique harnesses microsecond-pulsed, high-voltage, non-thermal electric fields to control the body’s natural response to trauma — the proliferation of collagen cells that cause permanent scarring at the site of injury. The technique partially destroys cells in the wound with short, pulsed electric fields that cause irreversible damage to the collagen cells. But the researchers had to find a delicate balance so that the technique didn’t create a new wound or “overheal” the existing wound, because scarring is the body’s natural way of healing.
The researchers treated burn injuries in rats in five therapy sessions over six months, then assessed them using an imaging technique developed by Drs. Martin Villiger and Brett Bouma’s group at the Wellman Center of Photomedicine at Massachusetts General. The researchers found a 57.9 percent reduction of the scar area in comparison with untreated scars.
“Scarring is a very complex process, involving inflammation and metabolism,” Dr. Golberg said. “We have found a way to partially prevent scar formation in animal models. Next we need to raise funding to develop a device for the clinical study on humans.”