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Studio portrait photograph of John Greenwood.

Burns surgeon
2016 Australian of the Year | South Australia

John's story

Looking after 450 patients suffering acute burns each year might seem like enough of a full-time job, but Dr John Greenwood has set his sights on excellent and affordable care for every burns patient around the world.

A plastic surgeon and the medical director of the Adult Burns Service at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, John cares for all adults with burns injuries in South Australia, the Northern Territory, western New South Wales and western Victoria – an area covering some 2.4 million square kilometres.

John runs state-wide education services, heads the nation’s only mobile response unit for burns injuries in disaster scenarios, and was dispatched to Darwin in the aftermath of the 2002 Bali bombings.

Since 2003 he has been developing a suite of innovative burn care and skin-substitute products, based on a biodegradable polyurethane platform, that replace the skin graft. John’s selfless service to burns patients is improving survival rates and quality of life for people around the world.

John's Composite Cultured Skin cassette and PolyNovo Biodegradable Temporising Matrix dressing

John has developed a procedure that will revolutionise the treatment of extensive deep burns and eliminate the need for painful skin grafts. The treatment will shorten the healing time of major burns from many months to only seven weeks and reduce the severity of scarring.

The treatment uses a unique biodegradable foam dressing and specially grown ‘cultured skin’. It has taken 10 years to develop and is now being validated at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Disposable cassette moulded from specialised medical grade, high flow polycarbonate. It is square and made from purple plastic. Biodegradable Temporising Matrix Dressing in a sealed clear plastic bag. The dressing is a sheet of thin cream coloured foam.

Cassette and dressing from Dr John Greenwood

Eliminating skin grafts

Dr John Greenwood AM:

Until now, we have relied on the traditional skin graft for the repair of burns. Some patients are so extensively burned that skin graft donor sites are not available. Now we are able to grow Composite Cultured Skin in the laboratory, using the patient’s own cells. The [skin] is grown in a bioreactor which can produce 2.5 square metres of skin in 28 days. Forty cassettes like this one provide the culturing and handling environment for the skin.

While the skin is growing it is necessary to ‘hold and prepare’ the wound. The Biodegradable Temporising Matrix dressing is implanted into wounds which are too large to suture. It prevents the contraction of the wound and provides a protective barrier to infection. The dressing is designed and engineered to integrate into the human body and within three to four weeks vascularised tissue starts to fill the biodegrading foam. It has a non-biodegradable membrane which is removed when the cultured skin is ready to be applied to the wound.

The future is now

John Weeks, first patient to receive this new treatment, 2015:

Being burnt is a horrific painful injury. Dr Greenwood’s work has given burns survivors the best possible recovery available from a major trauma. The healing process is not only truly remarkable but I am living proof that the future is now. The bioreactor and Biodegradable Temporising Matrix treatments will enrich the lives and give hope for the millions of people globally who have their circumstances altered in an instant. Without Dr Greenwood I wouldn’t be alive.

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