Today, skin grafts may seem commonplace, they are used on burns, skin infections, bedsores, anything where skin is needed to cover a damaged area. However, it hasn’t always been this way.
Sushrutha practices surgical procedure on fruit. From Internet Scientific Publications.
The first recorded skin grafts were performed in 600 BC by Sushrutha, an Indian surgeon. Sushrutha was performing skin grafts, diagnosing heatstroke, classifying types of fractures, and diagnosing mental illness long before Hippocrates. Sushrutha pioneered the skin graft. He would take skin from the forehead and reattach it to the nose to create a covering for those who had been deformed. The skin flap had to remain attached to the forehead until blood flow from to nose was fully functional. The downfall of Sushrutha’s method was that it left scaring of the forehead on those who’d had the procedure.
A man’s nose is reconstructed using the Italian Method method. Image from the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice.
In 1442 syphilis raged across Italy leaving many noseless and in search of new techniques to recreate the noses they had lost. An Italian scientist, Brancas, developed a new technique to cover the nose of those afflicted with the then untreatable disease. He would take a strip of skin from the forearm and attach it to the base of the nose on the afflicted. The skin would remain attached for many weeks until blood could flow from the face to the new nose. The method went largely unnoticed until surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi claimed the method as his own and the “Italian Method” became incredibly popular. After Tagliacozzi died, the method waned in popularity and Sushrutha’s method became the preferred method once again.
By 1939 skin grafts were common place, however there were more developments to come. In 1944, Jerome Webster an medical doctor in New York discovered that skin can be stored in refrigerators, prompting the US Military to start “skin banks,” filled with frozen flesh.