The Skin Bank


When a person sustains an extensive and/or deep wound, the trick to faster healing is to use prompt surgical excision of the dead and burned tissue and immediately cover the healthy tissue with a skin graft. A skin graft is a surgical transplant of skin from another part of the body, usually done to conceal heavy scars from burns, injury, or other medical conditions.

Types of Skin Grafts

There are two types of skin grafts:

  • Autograft - healthy skin from the burn victim is excised in a split-thickness fashion to be used as a “mesh-like” covering over the wound.
  • Allograft - in which skin from a cadaver donor is used as a temporary measure until the person’s own skin can grow.
History of Skin Grafts

Grafts like these have been used with some success since the late 1880s. The skin was able to be stored beginning in the early 1990s by refrigeration. By 1949, modern-day skin banking developed with the opening of the United States Navy Tissue Bank. By 1952, methods were found to store skin using glycerol, preventing damaging ice crystals from building up in the frozen donor skin. The first functional skin bank was created privately in 1971.

Using Allograft (Donor) Skin

There are several reasons why a person might need to donate skin to protect open tissue from the elements and dangerous pathogens. These include the following:

  • Covering mesh-like autografts
  • Covering extensively burned areas
  • Covering partial thickness burns
  • Extensive loss of skin in diseases like toxic epidermal necrolysis and staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome
  • As a template for laying down keratinocytes

These skin grafts reduce fluid loss from the body surface, keep the wound from getting dried out, and prevent bacterial infections from the damage. The injury hurts more minor, and it heals faster.

Fresh Allografts

Allografts promote the growth of the patient’s own skin and can prepare a burn wound for final closure. The best type of allograft is the fresh allograft—one that has not been frozen. Unlike autografts, which look like mesh when applied, allografts are whole pieces of skin. They can promote their own circulation and nourish the wound for some time after being used. Fresh allografts adhere better to the underlying tissue. Once the recipient’s tissue has begun to heal, the allograft can be removed. The main disadvantage of new allograft skin is that the fresh skin only lasts 14 days in storage and so having enough fresh skin around can be very difficult at times.

Allograft skin can be used to cover widely meshed patient skin. The patient skin is laid down onto the subcutaneous tissue and is stretched out like mesh. Allograft skin is laid upon the autograft skin for better protection and faster healing.

Frozen Allografts

Good use of frozen allograft skin is in the covering of partial-thickness burns. There is plenty of capillary circulation in the remaining dermis of the patient’s skin in such cases. All that is needed is coverage to prevent the burn from drying out or getting infected. It can also be used in conditions where the upper layer of skin has sloughed off in staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome or toxic epidermal necrolysis. It spares the patient from having a second wound from harvesting an autograft.

Micrografting Techniques

More commonly used in Asia, one technique involves mincing up pieces of autograft skin into tiny pieces and laying the pieces on autograft skin, then flipped over and placed on the wound. This maximizes the healing process. The downside is that it can cause severe contraction of the skin once it has healed.

Disadvantages of Allograft Skin Use

Allograft skin is considered less effective than being able to use the patient’s own skin to protect the burned area. It has a greater incidence of bacterial infections than autograft skin. For this reason, allograft skin is routinely cultured to make sure it isn’t contaminated. Cytomegalovirus has also been transmitted from host allograft skin to recipient.

Watch YouTube Video: Skin Graft Procedure Animation. This animated video demonstrates a graft procedure to repair damaged skin.

Sacramento Burn Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has suffered severe burn injuries in an accident, call our burn injury lawyers in Sacramento at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice.

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Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 5.27.22]

Photo by WhiteSession on Pixabay [cs 762]

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