UC Davis tapped to help oversee national research project focusing on burn victims

Photo of Dr. Greenhalgh and Rep. Matsui David Greenhalgh escorted Rep. Matsui on a tour of the UC Davis burn unit.

Supported by recent approval of a $2.4 million federal appropriation, the American Burn Association and UC Davis Regional Burn Center are launching a nationwide research effort aimed at developing new procedures and best practices for the treatment of burn injuries.

In announcing The Burns Outcomes Research Infrastructure Project, UC Davis burn care specialist announced that they will help direct a multicenter clinical research effort by establishing a data coordinating center and working with the University of Utah, the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research at Brooke Army Hospital and others to maximize the expertise and information developed from both the public and military medical facilities.

The Congressional effort to fund the new research project was led by Rep. Doris Matsui (CA-05), who toured the burn unit at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento and met with the university's top burn specialists, Tina Palmieri and David Greenhalgh, for a briefing about the study and upcoming plans for enhancing the burn treatment facilities and care.

"The ultimate goal of this project is to help us determine the best treatment strategies for patients after a burn injury," said Tina Palmieri, an associate professor of surgery and director of the UC Davis Regional Burn Center. "Developing patient data from multi-center clinical trials will help us achieve what physicians view as 'the gold standard' in patient care. It should truly result in improving the quality of life for burn survivors throughout the United States."

More than one million people are treated annually for burn injuries nationwide. Forty-five thousand are hospitalized and 4,500 people die each year from burns. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in significant burn injuries to military personnel, with more than 600 victims suffering from burns, on average, over 15 percent of their bodies.

When burn-care experts tried to develop guidelines for burn management based on existing research, it became clear that although much progress has been made, research was needed to establish the optimal way to treat burn injuries. By bringing burn researchers from throughout the country together to conduct multicenter clinical trials, the new Burns Outcomes Infrastructure Project will determine standards of care for burn treatment.

Photo of Dr. Palmieri and Rep. Matsui Tina Palmieri, director of the UC Davis Regional Burn Center and Rep. Matsui tour burn unit.

UC Davis burn specialist David Greenhalgh noted that while past research had successfully focused on enabling patients to survive severe burns, improving a victim's quality of life after a burn injury remained a major challenge. It is the reason why collecting and managing data about burn victims is now so important.

"The coordinating center at UC Davis will be much more than just a simple repository of data," said Greenhalgh, a professor of surgery and past president of the American Burn Association. "We will be overseeing the safety of the clinical trials at all research sites to ensure there is uniformity in the way they are being conducted. By having this type of rigorous infrastructure in place, we ultimately can develop the best treatment plans for burn patients."

Most burn injuries occur in young people aged 20-40 years, and severe burn injuries represent one of the leading causes of lost work-years in the United States. Twenty years ago, burns that involved half the body surface area were fatal. Today, due to advances in critical care, burns covering 90 percent of the body are often survivable. However, survival is only the first challenge for these patients. Burn survivors encounter many obstacles as they attempt to resume their lives. Issues related to scarring, limitations in function or movement, and returning to society persist long after discharge from the hospital.

The UC Davis Regional Burn Center, working in partnership with the burn center at Shriners Hospital for Children Northern California, has been recognized by the American College of Surgeons and the American Burn Association for excellence in the comprehensive care of burn patients. Children receive treatment at the Shriners Hospitals, while adults receive their care at the UC Davis Burn Center. Both institutions cover all aspects of burn care, including critical care, and wound management and grafting. Both centers also provide for rehabilitation and reconstructive surgery.

The Burns Outcomes Research Infrastructure Project is under the aegis of the American Burn Association, which will provide the leadership, education and infrastructure needed to conduct rigorous, multicenter outcomes research and information exchanges among researchers, burn-care providers and the communities they serve. For more information, visit www.ameriburn.org.

UC Davis Health System is an integrated, academic health system encompassing UC Davis School of Medicine, the 577-bed acute-care hospital and clinical services of UC Davis Medical Center, and the 800-member physician group known as UC Davis Medical Group.