Non-invasive method could prevent scarring from burns injuries

Researchers in Israel and the USA have developed partial irreversible electroporation, a non-invasive method that prevents scarring from burns injuries.

The technique, developed at Tel Aviv University and Harvard University, prevents burn scarring caused by the proliferation of collagen cells. They are using short, pulsed electric fields prevent the formation of burn-related hypertrophic scars, which is 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. It was recently published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

According to the World Health Organization, 10 per cent of all unintentional-injury deaths are the result of fire-related burns. For those that survive such catastrophes, post-burn scarring creates lifelong physical, psychological and social challenges.

“People don’t die from scars, but they do suffer from them,” said Dr Golberg. “We believe that the technology we developed, called partial irreversible electroporation (pIRE), can be used to prevent debilitating burn scars from forming.”

According to TAU, the non-invasive pIRE technique harnesses microsecond-pulsed, high-voltage, non-thermal electric fields to control the body’s natural response to trauma, namely 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. The researchers did, however, have to find a 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 58 per cent reduction of the scar area in comparison with untreated scars.

“Surgical excision, laser therapy, electron-beam irradiation, mechanical compression dressing, silicone sheet application and other techniques have been tested to treat scars over the years,” said Dr Golberg, “but there have been only modest improvements in the healing outcomes among all these treatments.

“Scarring is a very complex process, involving inflammation and metabolism,” said Dr Golberg. “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.”