John Burke

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 07 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7968
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. ns{at}

Coinventor of artificial skin for burns patients

In 1969 John Burke realised that he needed help from a non-medical discipline. For seven years the Harvard University surgeon had been trying unsuccessfully in his laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital to develop artificial skin to treat patients with burns. Burke asked the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for help.

Burke’s call was answered by Ionnis Yannas, a fibres and polymers specialist at MIT’s department of mechanical engineering. Burke, chief of staff at the burns institute of Shriners Hospital for Children at Massachusetts General, invited the young physical chemist to come over for a visit.

Wound closure

“Dr Burke guided me through the clinic and showed me one young patient after another with very extensive burns,” recalls Professor Yannas. “Dr Burke very clearly outlined to me his ideal approach for these desperately ill patients: prompt excision of burned wounds followed by grafting of a membrane that would provide control of bacterial infection and massive moisture loss while also accelerating wound closure. I had never before been exposed to such devastating misery in a clinical setting. I will never forget this striking clinical experience to which Dr Burke exposed me, …

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