Doctors have replaced the majority of a patient’s damaged skin using genetically-modified grafts. In 2015; a seven-year-old boy was admitted to a German hospital with lesions and blisters across nearly his entire body. He suffered from a unrivaled genetic condition called junctional epidermolysis bullosa (JEB) that prevents the epidermis, the outermost layer of our skin, from properly attaching to the underlying base. It results in extremely fragile skin prone to breaking and tearing, and patients with such severe cases often don’t survive beyond puberty. The evildoer is an inadequacy of the protein laminin-33, and it’s caused by a mutation in one of three genes.Faced with slim odds for their patient’s survival, It involved taking an unaffected section of his skin and using a retrovirus to insert the correct DNA concatenation in the skin cells.Once the fix was in place, the cells were artsy to grow larger patches of new skin, which were then attached to sheets of the protein fibrin and grafted onto the boy’s body. This was the first time such an operation had been attempted on a large scale,
“For the first time, outside the [blood-producing] system, it was able to show that transgenic stem cells can permanently regenerate an entire tissue,” says Michele de Luca, of the Center for Regenerative Medicine University of Modena:
The skin grafts stand up to physical stress, and function in every way like skin should, without the need for ointments or other treatments, according to de Luca.
“If we think about the experience we have in the burns, I would say that this epidermis would stay basically forever,” he says. Some of those patients have been observed for 30 years or more, with no major issues. Although the addition of a modified DNA sequence was unique, the operation was functionally quite similar to those that burn patients undergo.
A Few Good Cells
Observing these stem cells at work also helped clear up a riddle about how the skin functions. Researchers previously didn’t know if all cells with the capacity to produce new cells, which includes stem cells as well as others, produced new skin cells equally, or if a smaller population of stem cells was responsible. With the researcher’s new perception, it’s clear that the latter hypothesis is correct.The operation’s success offers hope to people worldwide who suffer from JEB, and the many others who experience similar skin conditions.