“Good research is driven primarily by curiosity; by those who love to understand and analyze,” said Mehmet Toner, Ph.D., director of research at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston. “It is a slow process and requires delayed gratification.”
A member of the scientific staff at the Boston Shriners Hospital since 1990, Dr. Toner leads the department with a broad view of the innovations in burn treatment that have been developed by the hospital over the years. He knows that it is when scientists are willing to be patient that big discoveries are made.
Shriners Hospitals research brings breakthroughs
There have been two major advances in the treatment of large burn injuries over the past 40 years. Artificial skin to close wounds was first developed in the 1970s and was used on patients with burn injuries at the Boston Shriners Hospital as early as 1980. Shriners Hospitals investigators were involved with the development of artificial skin alongside researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The second major development, an understanding of the metabolic issues created by burn injury, led to a more targeted delivery of calories and protein to patients. Shriners Hospitals and MGH investigators determined that providing for the unique nutritional needs of patients with burn injuries had a profound impact on recovery. These achievements have been recognized by the medical community throughout the world.
More milestones ahead
Dr. Toner believes the next major breakthrough in the treatment of large burns will likely involve in vivo healing, or healing from the inside. “The cosmetic issue of burn injury s a very serious concern that needs to be addressed,” said Dr. Toner. The goal is to identify wound cells and healthy progenitor cells/stem cells that regenerate and aid in healing. Dr. Toner and the research team are conducting studies focused on microtechnology and nanotechnology – tiny tools with applications for the diagnosis and monitoring of patients with burns.
One tool developed by Dr. Toner and other Shriners Hospitals investigators identifies rare cells (examples include progenitor cells and tumor cells) and has the ability to target a specific cell from among billions. These rare cells can control the outcome of disease or injury, and identifying them can have an enormous impact on a patient’s recovery.
While the science is at the beginning stages, this innovation brings real hope of healing for skin composition, flexibility and appearance.
“The unique aspect of Shriners Hospitals for Children is that there are wonderful opportunities for researchers, clinicians and patients,” said Dr. Toner. “By employing a rare breed – researchers who ;have the patience, endurance and passion to solve complex problems over time – we can have the next big news.”