Inside the Collection

ReCell spray-on skin kit: from pure ugliness comes a thing of healing beauty

Photograph of ReCell spray-on skin kit
ReCell spray-on skin kit

Feri walked into the packed nightclub. Drunk foreigners yelled and danced, as Western music pummelled the humid air. He headed toward the back of the nightclub and pulled a chord inside his jacket which detonated explosives strapped to his torso. His head tore instantly away from his neck, and nine people around him were torn apart. Those not killed from the blast were suddenly in a world of flame and fragment, and a suffocating need to get away if they could.

Arnasan pulled the Mitsubishi L300 van up across the road just prior to the blast. As the first survivors began to spill onto the street he pulled on the handbrake which detonated two filing cabinets packed with explosives in the back of the van, smeared with faeces to quicken any survivors’ infection,  sending metal, brick, wood, flesh and bone through the area and setting the buildings ablaze.

Most who survived the blasts were burned, having to crawl over burning debris and corpses to get out of the blazes.

The bombings took place in Bali, and if any grace could be bestowed upon this, the nearest specialist burns unit was at Royal Perth Hospital, where Dr Fiona Wood was the head of the Burns Unit. Since the early 1990s Dr Wood had been developing burns injury management and skin graft methods, and because of the urgent nature of burn injuries, had begun to research more expedient methods of applying skin to sections of burned-away tissue. The injuries flown into Perth from Bali ranged from two to ninety-three percent burns, and Dr Wood and her team had to employ every strategy available to them to save life, limb and torso. The burns unit treated twenty-eight victims in the days and weeks after the bombings, some of whom could not survive their injuries.

Dr Wood was already renowned in her field, but the media surrounding the Bali bombings put her name and her work into the public consciousness. Support for furthering her research and development came not just from Australia, but also the US Military, who funded an expedient result for a highly portable system for treating severe burns in the field.

The Western Australian company Avita Medical, who partnered with Dr Wood, recently launched the ReCell spray-on skin kit, making it available to all civilian medical practitioners. Although there has recently been some controversy over the leadership of the company, there is no question about the validity of the product’s abilities. This amazingly simple to use kit enables practitioners to harvest skin cell samples from the patient, usually a sample no bigger than a postage stamp, process it in the kit, and literally spray the processed skin cell solution onto the wound. This method works for second degree burns where the subcutaneous tissue has not been burned away. Third degree burns still require a full skin graft. Where the skin sample can be taken from an area very close to the wound, the cells regrow leaving much less noticeable scaring. The skin cells also attach and grow without rejection. The ReCell kit enables practitioners to make the skin sample taken regenerate an injured area eighty times larger than the sample. This was the stuff of science fiction not so long ago. The kit is actually an elegant and nonthreatening piece of medical technology, surely reducing the enormous stress of having burn injuries treated.

The Powerhouse Museum has an extensive historical health and medicine collection, and the ReCell spray-on skin kit will remain a significant part of this collection for generations.

Written by Damien McDonald

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