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Testing a new ‘recipe’ for regenerating skin

By Alisa Kim  •  Jun 6, 2019

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Backed by investment, scientist aims to repair wounds through stem cell-based therapy

One of the grim realities of treating a complex burn is that doctors must harvest healthy skin from the patient in order to cover the wound, thereby creating another injury. Dr. Marc Jeschke, a senior scientist in Biological Sciences at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) and director of the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook, is determined to find a better way.

His lab’s efforts to engineer human skin have been fortified through the awarding of a Disease Team grant worth $450,000 from the Ontario Institute of Regenerative Medicine (OIRM). The program supports projects that are developing new cellular or stem cell-based approaches to tissue repair and regeneration.

“Addressing difficult clinical problems like the ones Marc sees requires bold and innovative solutions. He is using his considerable expertise as a biologist and burn surgeon to devise a regenerative medicine approach to wound healing,” says Dr. Michael Julius, vice-president of research at SRI and Sunnybrook.

“Stem cell-derived skin substitutes show promise to result in drastically reduced mortality and health complications for patients, not to mention substantial savings to the health care system, by reducing the length and number of hospital stays and keeping patients healed over the long term,” says Julius.

Jeschke and his team are leading a Phase 1 clinical trial evaluating the safety and feasibility of using a skin substitute engineered in his lab. It is made from stem cells derived from a patient’s surgically removed burn tissue. The aim is to improve healing by reducing the need for surgeons to take healthy skin from elsewhere on the body and transplant it to the site of injury. The treatment could create a new standard of care for people with burns and those with traumatic and complex wounds.

The grant is critical to moving the research forward and getting it to patients, says Jeschke. “It’s essential that we have these funds. Without them, we won’t be able to do the safety trial.” Support from OIRM has been instrumental. Last year, he was awarded an Accelerator Grant worth $100,000 from the agency, which enabled his group to do the work required to secure regulatory approval for the skin substitute from Health Canada.

The award was announced at the OIRM’s Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Symposium, held May 15, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. In all, the organization awarded $2.2 million in disease-based team grants for 2019–2020.

Jeschke’s lab is part of SRI’s Centre for Research in Image-Guided Therapeutics, which was funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation.


In a nutshell

  • Dr. Marc Jeschke was awarded a Disease Team grant worth $450,000 from the Ontario Institute of Regenerative Medicine.
  • The fund will support a clinical trial evaluating a skin substitute engineered in his lab made from stem cells derived from discarded burn tissue.
  • The research has the potential to create a new standard of care for people with burns and those with traumatic and complex wounds.