Scientists Save a Boy by Growing a Whole New Skin for Him!
Original Post by: MEGAN MOLTENI Wired: SCIENCE
THE BABY WAS still in diapers when the first blister appeared, ballooning red and angry from his pale, newborn skin. Soon, they became a regular feature on the map of his body, along with deep creases in his face when he howled out in pain. A doctor told the parents his LAMB3 gene had a glitch—his body wasn’t making enough of a protein to anchor the outer layer of his skin to the inner ones.
For seven years they kept the blisters at bay. But by summer of 2015, the wounds were winning—and the boy had lost 60 percent of his skin.
In June, the child arrived at the burn unit of the Ruhr University Children’s Hospital in Bochum, Germany, hot with fever and septic from a strain of staph. His doctors began pumping him full of antibiotics and painkillers, bathing him in iodine, and dressing the wounds with ointments. Nothing worked. The father gave his son skin from his own body. It didn’t take. After five weeks in the intensive care unit, the boy was dying. But there was one more thing left to try. A genetic experiment never attempted before.
The doctors snipped out a tiny square of the boy’s skin and shipped it to a laboratory in Modena, Italy. Scientists there used a virus to inject a functioning LAMB3 gene into all the cells that made up that patch of skin, including some stem cells. Then they grew them and grew them and grew them until there were enough to seed onto nine square feet of gauze and protein gel. An adult-sized skin suit would take about 22 square feet, but for a kid, it was more than enough.
In October, the Italians sent the new skin back to Germany, and the boy’s doctors carefully…