Better burn outcomes

Dr. Palmieri
Tina Palmieri, direc­tor of the UC Davis Regional Burn Center

When a can of gasoline exploded, the flames burned Shane Chilson on 80 percent of his body. Eight months later, after a series of operations and rehabilitation at UC Davis Regional Burn Center, Chilson was ready to go back to work in his home town of Willits, Calif.

Today, the active 33-year-old cabinetmaker and father of six views his repaired body as powerful evidence of the remarkable care he received in 2001. During his most recent visit to the Burn Center, nurses and physicians marveled at his skin grafts.

“They were acting like me when I go back to an old house I built to see how it’s holding up,” he says.

Such successful recoveries from burn injuries will become more common, thanks to UC Davis’ leadership of a new nationwide research effort to develop and disseminate best practices for treating patients like Chilson. With a $2.4 million federal grant, UC Davis – under the aegis of the American Burn Association – will help direct the Burns Outcomes Research Infrastructure Project. The first of its kind, the project brings together interdisciplinary expertise from the University of Utah, U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research at Brooke Army Hospital and others. The UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center, which fosters bench-to-bedside research, will establish and manage the project’s data coordinating center.

Partnering with Shriners

Building a nationally renowned burn research and treatment consortium takes top-tier scientists with a collaborative mindset. The longstanding partnership between UC Davis and Shriners Hospital for Children – Northern California is an outstanding example of such collaboration. Researchers and physicians at the two institutions work together to improve the care of children with burns, spinal cord injuries and orthopaedic disorders. Through the Institute for Pediatric Regenerative Medicine, the latest joint initiative, researchers are investigating the potential for stem-cell based therapies to regenerate neural and connective tissues as well as the skin.

"Survival alone shouldn’t be our goal anymore. It should be to give people the best possible quality of life after a burn injury."
— Tina Palmieri

Although accidents like Chilson’s account for many of the 1 million burn injuries each year, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have now caused more than 800 soldiers in the U.S. military to become burn victims. In addition, a rash of wildfires in California this summer led to a spike of burn injuries among firefighters, said Tina Palmieri, direc­tor of the UC Davis Regional Burn Center. Now’s the time to pull resources together to optimize burn care for these patients, she says: “Survival alone shouldn’t be our goal anymore. It should be to give people the best possible quality of life after a burn injury.”

Shane Chilson and son J.T.
Shane Chilson's speedy recovery from a burn injury is the outcome UC Davis Regional Burn Center physicians work to ensure for all patients. Shane is pictured with son J.T.

Toward that end, the project will investigate several important questions. One prospective study will track patients to find out whether the amount of blood given to burn victims can be reduced without compromising their survival. An observational study will gather data to see if patients benefit from receiving early and frequent physical and occupational therapy. And a third study will retrospectively comb through patient data collected over a decade by the burns research community to search for factors that predict recovery, reintegration into society and long-term survival.

UC Davis will play a key role in ensuring that the data is of high quality, remains confidential yet accessible to the burns research community, and is analyzed rigorously.

Says Palmieri, “It is a complex undertaking, and UC Davis is one of the few places where this work can be done.”