Thursday, November 29, 2007

UC Davis' Burn Center Will Oversee National Research

UC Davis' Burn Center Will Oversee National Research
By Dorsey Griffith -
Published 12:00 am PST Thursday, November 29, 2007

Although people have been getting burned for millennia, research on how best to care for burn survivors is in its infancy.

The UC Davis Regional Burn Center is leading an effort to push burn research to a higher level.

An infusion of $5 million from the U.S. Department of Defense will allow Davis to orchestrate collaborative research at burn centers across the country. The American Burn Association will help coordinate the effort.

Already, planning is under way for three studies. One will examine how to reduce the need for multiple blood transfusions for burn patients in critical care. Another will examine how best to rehabilitate burn survivors, both physically and emotionally. The third will identify obstacles burn survivors face as they recover.

"We want them to have a better, more productive life," said Dr. Tina Palmieri, associate professor of surgery and director of the Davis burn center. "Currently what we do now is based on very early research. It is not enough."

The initiative, dubbed BORI for the Burns Outcomes Research Infrastructure Project, could not have been imagined even 10 years ago, Palmieri said. That's because burn surgeons don't often agree on treatment and because putting burn patients in clinical trials can be complicated.

But burn specialists now see a need for better coordination and standardized treatment.

Part of the motivation for the initiative, Palmieri said, is that treatment advances have improved burn survival rates. Twenty years ago, people burned over more than half of their body rarely survived. Today, even patients with burns over 90 percent of their body can survive.

Although burn care has evolved, the field has not seen broad-based clinical trials that maladies such as cancer and heart disease have attracted. Yet about 1 million Americans are burned every year and many endure difficult, expensive recoveries, Palmieri said.

Jim Mariner, who lost most of his left arm in an electric shock accident two weeks ago, is determined to return to his job as a construction superintendent. He hopes to be discharged soon from the UC Davis Burn Center.

Mariner, 43, said his care has gone beyond surgeries, rehabilitation exercises and pain control he needs while he heals.

"They have really kept me upbeat," he said, sitting up in his hospital room Tuesday. "If I needed a shoulder to cry on, or even some tough love, they were there."

Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, who helped secure the funding, said the research initiative is timely, as more soldiers return from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious burn injuries.

The U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, at Brooke Army Hospital in Houston, will participate in the research. According to its Web site, Brooke serves 300 burn patients annually, and has treated 545 patients admitted as a result of combat.

Matsui, who toured the Davis burn unit Tuesday, said the university is the best choice to run the new research program.

"What you have got is a body of people willing to work hard who can see beyond today," she said.

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