Image of Artificial Artificial "Skin"
Artificial “Skin", Ioannis Yannas, 1970–Present

In 1970, burn victims who lost 60 to 90 percent of the skin on their bodies usually died from either fluid loss or bacterial infection. Too little skin was left to perform grafts, and substitutes had not yet worked. Materials Science Professor Ioannis Yannas was inspired by a meeting with Dr. John Burke of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Burke took Yannas to the Shriners Burns Institute at Harvard, making the urgency of the problem clear to him. Yannas was the first to call attention to “the basic physics of the graft-wound interface.” Previous materials had been rejected by the patient, caused fatal blood clots or worse, and did not dissolve at the right rate causing further agony. Yannas discovered a unique combination of the protein collagen— the strong fibrous material found in skin, bones and tendons— and carbohydrates known as “mucopolysaccharides,” which worked exceptionally well. By the mid 1970s, the first break- through was a membrane that allowed the dermis layer of skin to heal but still required further transplants. In 1982,Yannas and Burke announced they had developed a more advanced material that eliminated this second step. Although a major milestone, the work continues today at MIT—not only on skin, but also on all aspects of tissue and organ regeneration.

Artificial “Skin”
Ioannis Yannas
Loan from the MIT Fibers and Polymers Laboratory

photo: Michael Cardinali for MIT Museum

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