Spray-on skin is a biotechnology used as a treatment for damaged skin such as burns, scars, and some skin diseases. As the name suggests, the treatment involves literally spraying some cultured cells directly onto the affected skin through the use of a spray tool, creating a thin coating that will help heal and regenerate the skin. Patients who can benefit most from the spray-on skin are those who have severe and extensive skin damage covering more than 40% of the body.
The development of the spray-on skin is credited to Dr. Fiona Wood and Marie Stoner, a plastic surgeon and a medical scientist, respectively. In the 1980s, Dr. Wood observed in an English research center how skin samples could be extracted from patients and cultured in laboratories to expand as “skin cell sheets,” prompting her to develop and create a newer and more effective technique. In 1993, Dr. Wood and Ms. Stoner were given a Telethon grant to begin their skin culture and research program. On one occasion, both of them observed that a thinner and underdeveloped skin sheet was a more effective treatment than a mature one, and thus experimented by creating a spray-on solution using the cells from the immature skin cell sheet.
The process of the spray-on skin begins by taking a small skin sample from the patient himself in an area where the skin is undamaged, probably the size of a postage stamp. The skin sample is then soaked in an enzyme solution that will assist in separating the skin layers, primarily the dermis and the epidermis. Stem cells in between these two layers are physically scraped off and harvested, as these cells have the ability to grow and multiply. The cells are then soaked in a saline solution that is ready to be sprayed using an atomizer nozzle, very similar to those seen in perfume bottles. The texture of the culture cells tends to be sticky, so they easily bind with the surface where they are sprayed on.
One of the most important advantages of the spray-on skin is that it is customized, depending on some factors such as the severity and the location of the injury, as these will determine which skin samples are needed to heal the damage. For example, if the injury is located on the face, surgeons can extract some skin from the back of the patient’s ear or from the neck area, so that the color and the structure of the skin sprayed on to the face will match closely. Another advantage of the technology is a shorter period of laboratory work. The skin cells can be harvested in the laboratory and can be applied on the surface in as little as a few hours, compared to culturing skin sheets that can take weeks. Recovery time is also reduced considerably, as patients do not have to deal with stitches and staples typical in skin graft procedures.