Skin grafting is often used to treat:
Skin grafts are often employed after serious injuries when some of the body's skin is damaged. Surgical removal (excision or debridement) of the damaged skin is followed by skin grafting. The grafting serves two purposes: it can reduce the course of treatment needed (and time in the hospital), and it can improve the function and appearance of the area of the body which receives the skin graft.
When grafts are taken from other animals, they are known as heterografts or xenografts. By definition, they are temporary biologic dressings which the body will reject within days to a few weeks. They are useful in reducing the bacterial concentration of an open wound, as well as reducing fluid loss.
For more extensive tissue loss, a full-thickness skin graft, which includes the entire thickness of the skin, may be necessary. This is often performed for defects of the face and hand where contraction of the graft should be minimized. The general rule is that the thicker the graft, the less the contraction and deformity.
Cell cultured epithelial autograft (CEA) procedures take skin cells from the patient to grow new skin cells in sheets in a laboratory. The new sheets are used as grafts, and because the original skin cells came from the patient, the body does not reject them. Because these grafts are very thin (only a few cell layers thick) they do not stand up to trauma, and the "take" is often less than 100%. Newer grafting procedures combine CEA with a dermal matrix for more support. Research is investigating the possibilities of combining CEA and a dermal matrix in one product.
The graft is carefully spread on the bare area to be covered. It is held in place by a few small stitches or surgical staples. The graft is initially nourished by a process called plasmatic imbibition in which the graft literally "drinks plasma". New blood vessels begin growing from the recipient area into the transplanted skin within 36 hours in a process called capillary inosculation. To prevent the accumulation of fluid under the graft which can prevent its attachment and revascularization, the graft is frequently meshed by making lengthwise rows of short, interrupted cuts, each a few millimeters long, with each row offset by half a cut length like bricks in a wall. In addition to allowing for drainage, this allows the graft to both stretch and cover a larger area as well as to more closely approximate the contours of the recipient area.
An increasingly common aid to both pre-operative wound maintenance and post-operative graft healing is the use of VAC Therapy (Vacuum Assisted Closure). This system works by placing a section of foam cut to size over the wound, then laying a perforated tube onto the foam. The arrangement is then secured with bandages. A vacuum unit then creates negative pressure, sealing the edges of the wound to the foam, and drawing out excess blood and fluids. This process typically helps to maintain cleanliness in the graft site, promotes the development of new blood vessels, and increases the chances of the graft successfully taking. VAC can also be used between debridement and graft operations to assist an infected wound in remaining clean for a period of time before new skin is applied.