The study in the journal Burns was done using rats, but a co-author at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital believes it can apply to human patients as well.
Cooling the body, or systemic hypothermia, was explored as a therapy for trauma in the 1950s but fell out of favor as it appeared to make things worse, and that seemed to apply to burns as well, said Dr. Richard Cartie, a pediatric intensivist at the burn center.
“There was a lot of good evidence at that time that if burn patients got cold, they did poorly,” he said. “In the first hour or two, that’s a reasonable thing.”
Then a study out of Austria several years ago found that those who were treated with hypothermia after being revived from a heart attack did better, Cartie said.
“If you cooled them, they survived better, left the hospital in better shape and recovered better,” he said. “That was a big thing; nobody had really showed that.”
The same seems to hold true with second-degree burns where some tissue is in a state where it could progress or recover. Those rats treated with hypothermia had 18 percent less depth in their burns compared to those not treated, and treatment seemed to persist at 24 hours. Genetic analysis by lead author Dr. Julie A. Rizzo, a resident at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, found that many pro-inflammatory cell signals were decreased by the cooling, which Cartie said was also unique about the study.
“Nobody has ever really put together a true protein-sequencing, genetic-sequencing model of what a burn does after a burn injury,” he said.
Treating even six hours after injury was still beneficial and has implications for the burn center’s patients, who often live hours away. It could also have implications for injuries on the battlefield, where care might be hours away as well. Cartie said.
“The military implications are also pretty important,” he said.
Furthering the study might mean looking at more complex burns in rats or embarking on human clinical trials, but Cartie said he thinks there are clinical implications from this study.
“I think we’re pretty comfortable in saying it is beneficial in burns,” he said.