First there was the spray-on tan, and now comes the spray-on skin cells. A new device can spray a burn victim's own skin cells onto damaged skin and dramatically reduce how much time it takes for burn patient to recover.

The Skin-Cell Gun, as it's called, earned that nickname because it basically works like a more complicated spray-paint gun. A doctor takes a biopsy from the patient's undamaged skin to isolate the healthy stem cells. A water-based solution containing those healthy stem cells is then sprayed on the burn, and the patient is on the fast track to recovery. It was through study of stem cells that allowed other researchers to develop a new approach that transforms skin cells into beating heart cells.

The process was first developed in 2008 by Professor Joerg C. Gerlach and colleagues at the Department of Surgery at the University of Pittsburg’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Skin Cells Switch to Beating Heart Cells

The Skin-Cell gun process only takes an hour and a half from start to finish, compared to the old method using skin grafts that can take weeks or even months. According to PhysOrg, that process involves taking skin sections from uninjured parts of the patient’s body, or growing sheets of skin artificially, and grafting them over the burn.

The difference in recovery time is equally drastic between the two methods. While it can take several weeks for a patient to recover using traditional treatment, the Skin-Cell Gun process takes just a few days for a full recovery.

The National Geographic Channel recently produced a short video segment that looks at the Skin-Cell Gun. It's worth a view, but there are some mildly disturbing images of several skin damage:

Photo courtesy Jorg Gerlach, University of Pittsburgh