Scientists grow skin in lab

A seven-year-old boy has received a life-saving treatment after German and Italian doctors replaced 80 percent of the skin on his body. It was a highly-experimental first-of-a-kind surgery.

Hassan looks like a healthy little boy now, but two years ago, doctors say he was close to dying. The Syrian refugee could barely walk or eat and all of the skin on his body, except for his head and part of his left leg, was blistered and infected. 

Dr. Michele de Luca of the University of Modena said, "The  prognosis of the kid was very, very, very poor."

Hassan was born with a rare genetic disease called junctional epidermolysis bullosa,  known as butterfly disease, because it causes skin to become fragile and tear. Antibiotics, bandages, even a skin graft from his father didn't help. 

So, stem cell scientists in Europe attempted a break-through procedure, growing genetically-modified, healthy skin cells in a lab, and turning them into "sheets" of skin. Doctors then grafted the replacement skin onto almost all of Hassan's body in a series of transplant operations.

Surgeon Dr. Tobias Hirsch said, "We had a major improvement after the first transplantation because of the diminishing of the open wound areas. The child improved dramatically."

It's been two years since Hassan's last surgery and doctors say he's cured of the disease and enjoying life as an active seven-year-old.

Doctors believe the experimental stem-cell treatment could help other people with skin diseases, as well as burn victims. They now want to use their research in clinical trials.


 


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