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'It was like a miracle cure for my burns'

By Sarah Core for CNN

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Sarah Core: "You could have the treatment on a wound one day, and wake up the next day and it would have healed."

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(CNN) -- Sarah Core was severely injured as a result of a gas explosion in April 2004, suffering burns to 50 percent of her body. She was part of the first controlled clinical study to examine the effectiveness of using "spray-on" cultured skin cells to treat the wounds of burns victims.

I was visiting a friend who lived on a boat in east London. As I was cooking I noticed the gas flame rolling over the surface and onto the floor. There was a leak in the gas supply to the fridge.

I didn't hear the explosion, although the police later told me it was so loud they'd had calls reporting that a bomb had gone off. I was right in the middle of the blast.

I managed to get out on to the deck but I was still on fire. A neighbor shouted at me to jump in the water. As I floated up to the surface, I thought, "This is really serious." After they'd pulled me out, an ambulance arrived to take me to hospital and that's all I remember.

Soon afterwards, my breathing deteriorated and I needed to be put on a ventilator. I was moved to the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, which has a specialist burns unit where the "spray-on" skin cell treatment was being tested.

East Grinstead was where the RAF's "Guinea Pigs Club" -- the pilots severely burned during the Second World War who volunteered to undergo pioneering plastic surgery -- were treated, so they've got that legacy.

My treatment consisted of both regular grafting and the new "spray-on" skin cells. Rather than using the skin they've harvested as a graft they stretch it, using it as a mesh for the spray-on cells. They grow the cells from a small biopsy and then suspend it in an emulsion and spray it onto the skin from a syringe.

The cells take very quickly because they're such a fine layer. You could have the treatment on a wound one day, and wake up the next day and it would have healed. It was as if a miracle had taken place.

The skin looks more natural than a normal skin graft. It's very smooth and looks a little red, whereas the graft can leave a slight diamond pattern. The main advantage is I'll be able to regain muscle tone, which reduces the damage caused by scarring.

The implications of this treatment for those with severe burns are huge. Someone who had 90 percent burns was able to have grafts from sections they took from his ankle. They did his whole body like that, waiting for the wound to heal between grafts.

I've got to the stage with my treatment where I've recovered from the trauma. What I've got now is a case of chronic unhealed wounds. You have to trick the skin into healing.

There are a lot of common bugs associated with burns wounds. It's a little battle constantly. As soon as you get a bacterial infection the skin breaks down. I have treatment twice a week, when I visit the hospital for dressing changes. There seems to be a cycle of surgical intervention every six months or so. I'm due for another round of surgery and this time I think I'm a lot healthier than I was before.

Even since 18 months ago, when I received the spray-on treatment, they've improved it. They're learning all the time. It's very satisfying to think that others may benefit from my agony.

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