In a ground-breaking application of autologous skin stem cells, a young boy was saved from a potentially life-threatening genetic disease affecting his entire skin.
The critically ill 7-year-old was fighting a rare disease called junctional epidermolysis bullosa (JEB), which makes skin fragile to the slightest friction and leaves sufferers with serious blisters and skin loss. He was given autologous skin stem cell treatment - which means using his own stem cells - during three surgeries at Children's Hospital of Ruhr University, Germany.
Despite having lost around 60% of his body's surface area, surgeons managed to harvest skin stem cells from a small patch of the boy's skin. The stem cells were genetically modified to remove the disease-causing gene and used to grow healthy skin in the lab. The new skin was applied in surgery to cover almost 80% of the boy's body.
After eight months in an intensive care unit, the child made an amazing recovery. Unlike traditional skin grafts, the stem cell treated skin behaves normally and doesn't require specialist ointments.
The epidermis looks basically normal. There is no big difference. (The skin should last) basically the life of the patient.
Michele De Luca, Center for Regenerative Medicine, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia
Recent reports say that he now lives a normal life without medication, although his skin's progress will be closely monitored. Although this autologous stem cell treatment is still unapproved by regulatory bodies, it offers further proof that even severe genetic diseases can be treated with a person’s own stem cells!