Boy is first in world to have whole body skin graft

National Post (Latest Edition) - - NEWS - Sarah Knap­ton

A boy suf­fer­ing from a dev­as­tat­ing dis­ease that left him cov­ered in blis­ters and con­fined to a hos­pi­tal bed is play­ing soc­cer af­ter be­ing fit­ted with an en­tirely new skin.

The seven- year- old Ger­man boy was born with the rare con­di­tion junc­tional epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa, which causes skin to blis­ter and tear at the slight­est touch.

Al­though doc­tors in his home coun­try had tried skin grafts taken from his fa­ther, none had been suc­cess­ful and he was forced to live in the burns unit at Bochum’s Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, in the Ruhr district, be­cause most of his skin was miss­ing or dam­aged.

In des­per­a­tion doc­tors con­tacted ex­perts in other coun­tries, and f ound a group of Ital­ian sci­en­tists who were ex­per­i­ment­ing with skin cell re­gen­er­a­tion tech­niques.

In a world first, the team took a sam­ple of skin just four square cen­time­tres, ex­tracted the stem cells, then ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered them back into healthy cells.

The healthy tis­sue was then grown into large skin grafts that were used to re­place 80 per cent of the boy’s skin in three op­er­a­tions.

His new skin no longer blis­ters and the young­ster has been able to play soc­cer for the first time and en­joy the rough and tum­ble of a school­boy’s life. Dr. Michele de Luca, from the Uni­ver­sity of Mo­dena, Italy, who led the gene ther­apy team, said: “The pa­tient was in dan­ger of life. The prog­no­sis was very poor, but he sur­vived.

“He went back to nor­mal life, in­clud­ing school and sports. His epi­der­mis is sta­ble; ro­bust. It doesn’t blis­ter at all.”

Sci­en­tists have pre­vi­ously only tried the tech­nique for small ar­eas, but the suc­cess proves that it could be used for larger ar­eas, po­ten­tially of­fer­ing hope for burns vic­tims.

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