Thermal burns typically display an injury pattern dictated by the transfer of the thermal energy into the skin and underlying tissues and creation of three zones of injury represented by a necrotic zone of disrupted cells and tissue, an intermediate zone of injured and dying cells, and a distant zone of stressed cells that will recover with proper treatment. The wound healing capabilities of a keratin biomaterial hydrogel were studied in two pilot studies, one using a chemical burn model in mice and the other a thermal burn model in swine. In both studies, keratin was shown to prevent enlargement of the initial wound area and promote faster wound closure. Interestingly, treating thermally stressed dermal fibroblast in culture demonstrated that soluble keratin was able to maintain cell viability and promote proliferation. Separation of so-called alpha and gamma fractions of the keratin biomaterial had differential effects, with the gamma fraction producing more pronounced cell survival and recovery. These results suggest that the gamma fraction, composed essentially of degraded alpha keratin proteins, may facilitate cell rescue after thermal injury. Treatment of burns with gamma keratin may therefore represent a potential therapy for wounds with an intermediate zone of damaged tissue that has the potential to contribute to spontaneous healing.
Keywords: Keratin; burn; heat shock; hydrogel; skin; wound.
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