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Treating burns: a field of medicine that requires resources

From intensive care to the most everyday support, victims of large burns need extensive treatment. Burn treatment research is breaking new ground in tending to their needs and relieving their pain.

There’s a household remedy that advises applying butter to heal a burn. This treatment, based on popular belief, should be banished: it aggravates the trauma. To treat burns today, medicine has developed care that is by far more technical and inventive. For example, in 2016, a team from Tel Aviv University in Israel developed technology to control the multiplication of collagen cells that form scars by sending electrical micro-impulses to the burn area. This innovation considerably reduced the extent of scarring produced during healing. Since early 2017, doctors in Brazil have been treating burns with the skin of tilapia, a freshwater fish rich in collagen – a less costly technique than bandages made of organic pigskin or human amniotic membranes. Indeed, treating large burn victims often requires significant and costly human and material resources.

Victims with large burns vulnerable to infection

The burn care center at Saint-Louis Hospital in Paris is ultramodern, housed in a building that opened in June 2012. It is organized according to one simple principle – all the services the patient needs are assembled in his room: operating room, surgery, resuscitation, balneotherapy, infirmary, testing, treatment and washing. The goal is to never move the burn victims, who are very vulnerable to infection because their damaged skin no longer acts as a barrier against contamination. The room temperature varies between 30-38°C (86-100.4°F), and the relative humidity level is 60%, to prevent hypothermia and dehydration in patients. Each room is equipped with two areas: an incoming clean airlock and a decontamination airlock for personnel and materials to avoid any germ circulation. In this unique setting in France, the doctors perform grafts with skin taken from the patient or a donor, and epidermal cell cultures to create artificial skin. At the end of each hospitalization, the room is cleaned with deadly gas, with all doors hermetically sealed.

Treatment by phage therapy

There is also a burn care center at Percy Military Hospital, in Clamart, in the southwestern suburbs of Paris. A newly constructed building was opened in October 2015 to receive more patients. In this hospital – dedicated to treating soldiers returned from war fields as well as victims of disaster, accidents or attacks – several therapeutic methods are being tested. In the fight against infections that afflict victims of large burns, the treatment center resorts to phage therapy: using bacteriophages (viruses) to destroy the bacteria that infect the ill, rather than using antibiotics or antiseptics to which the bacteria become resistant. Compresses soaked in a diluted solution containing these viruses are applied to the patients’ burns. The results are promising.