As the Persian Gulf war continues, BioSurface Technology Inc.of Cambridge, Mass., is working with the Brooke Army MedicalCenter (BAMC) at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, on contingencyplans to provide grafts for a large number of burn victims.

Those plans are "to provide skin for a massive amount ofpeople," said Gretchen Johnson, director of sales for thecompany, which cultures skin biopsies to produce skin graftsfor burn treatment. BioSurface met last September with BAMCofficials to plan emergency supplies, she said.

Ray Dery, a BAMC spokesman, confirmed that Biosurface hassupplied BAMC's Army Burn Center (ABC) with skin grafts forat least six months, but he declined to comment on emergencyplans to treat soldiers injured in the Gulf war.

BAMC does plan to expand a 40-bed burn unit to handle apossible increase in burn casualties resulting from the Gulf war,said Pete Esker, director of Health Care Strategy at the Army'sOffice of the Surgeon General.

The military's only facility with primary emphasis on treatingburns, the ABC was established in 1946, when, according to itsbrochure, "it became evident that future conflicts would resultin great numbers of burn casualties."

BioSurface grows sheets of outer skin cells, called epidermaltissue, from a stamp-size biopsy of skin taken from a patient'sbody. The ABC sends the biopsies to BioSurface by overnightdelivery. It takes 21 days to grow the epidermal sheets. Theycan be large enough to cover the whole body, although inpractice only about a fifth of the body is covered during asingle surgical operation.

BioSurface is growing about 30 skin grafts, but said it could, ifthe Army asks, sharply increase the production rate, Johnsonsaid. It would add incubators to house the growing cells andemployees would work extra shifts.

Privately held BioSurface is the only company to providecultured skin grafts, according to Johnson. It also runs fouroperations in Germany and one in France.

Not all burn victims are suitable recipients for culturedepidermal grafts. It is important to close burn wounds asrapidly as possible. For patients whose burns cover less thanhalf their body surface, it is usually preferable to transfer skingrafts from undamaged areas of the body or use temporarycadaver or pig skin grafts rather than wait 21 days for thecultured grafts to grow. Other injuries and infections can alsocause graft rejection. Epidermal grafts are successful in 70percent of treated patients, Johnson said.

BioSurface's skin grafts are typically priced at $15,000 forenough to cover one arm. Johnson confirmed that the companyis charging for grafts supplied to the Army, but declined todisclose how much.

Marrow-Tech Inc. of La Jolla, Calif., and Organogenesis Inc. ofCambridge, Mass., both said Tuesday that officials from BAMChad expressed interest in their products. Both companies areconducting clinical trials.

-- Rachel Nowak BioWorld Staff

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.