New grafts for old? A review of alternatives to autologous skin.
Nanchahal J., Ward CM.
Immediate resurfacing of skin defects is a challenging prospect, especially in patients with extensive full-thickness burns. Currently, split-thickness autografts offer the best form of wound coverage, but limited donor sites and their associated morbidity have prompted the search for alternatives. The application of allogeneic skin is restricted by availability and the risk of transmission of infection, whilst synthetic skin substitutes are simply expensive dressings. The problems of limited expansion may be overcome by culturing keratinocytes in vitro. Unlike autologous cells, allogeneic keratinocytes are available immediately, although they survive for less than a week when applied to full-thickness skin defects. Moreover, the absence of a dermal component in these grafts predisposes to instability and contracture. A cross-linked collagen and glycosaminoglycan dermal substitute, covered with thin split-skin grafts or cultured autologous keratinocytes, shows promise in burns patients. An alternative is a collagen matrix populated by allogeneic fibroblasts and overlaid with cultured autologous or allogeneic keratinocytes. The clinical application of cultured grafts remains imperfect but offers the prospect of immediate coverage and massive expansion.