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What to Know About the Genetically Engineered Skin That Saved a Young Boy's Life

From TIME - November 9, 2017

A seven year old boy with a rare genetic disease called junctional epidermolysis bullosa received the most extensive skin transplant yet to treat his condition.

The boy was born with a mutation in genes that control the growth and replacement of the outermost layer of skin. Since birth, he experienced severe blisters that would expose inner layers and make him prone to potentially deadly wounds and infections.

Attempts to replace smaller patches with donor skin, including from the boys father, failed to treat the condition. With no other options, doctors were focused on simply making him comfortable with morphine until his inevitable death.

But in a paper published in Nature, the boys physicians, located at Ruhr University in Germany, report on the early success of an experimental new treatment option, growing enough genetically engineered skin to cover 80% of the boys body, from his arms, legs, chest and back.

The researchers learned of the work of Michele De Luca, from the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy, who took peoples own skin cells, grew them in the lab, and genetically fixed them to no longer carry the disease-causing mutation. De Luca had already used the technique to successfully treat one person. Now, De Luca and the German doctors report that theyve successfully performed an expanded version of the grafting on the little boy, whose name has not been released.

Read more: Scientists Use Stem Cells From Rats To Create First Contracting Muscle

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