European doctors have recently cured a young boy from dying of a rare skin condition called Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa. Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa is a genetic disease that causes blisters and tears in the skin, leaving the patient prone to infections and cancer. After being diagnosed, the boy was given less than a year to live, and doctors began discussing ways to keep him comfortable during his last moments.
However, as a last ditch effort, they decided to talk to the director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Dr. Michele De Luca. He had been growing some of the largest skin grafts known to the world for burn victims, and had been using his expertise to treat a patient with the same disease as the patient of the the European doctors. The only difference was that Dr. De Luca’s patient was only being affected in small areas, whereas the boy in the article had nine square feet of infected skin. Eventually, the doctors came up with a plan.
They decided to remove about half an inch of skin and then genetically engineered his cells, using a virus to swap the healthy version of his mutated genes into his DNA. Next, they grew those healthy cells on giant sheets of skin and grafted them onto the affected areas of the boy’s skin. Each month, they focused on a new body part; in October they covered his arms and legs, and in November, his back. This was all done while the boy was in a medically induced coma, to avoid pain. In the end, doctors replaced about 80% of his skin, which is an incredible feat.
While almost every case is different, doctors expect this to soon become one of the widespread methods of treatment for victims of Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa, and maybe even patients with other skin diseases. I have always been really interested in genetic modification and growing artificial body parts. This article was really amazing because not only are doctors beginning to be able to grow artificial body parts, but they are actively saving lives with this new technology. The article talks about how the people who have often referred to as ‘no hope cases’ are now being given the opportunity to survive, which is what developing new medicine is all about. One of the biggest things that I was wondering about was whether or not the boy would eventually have to come back and get new treatments, or if this was a permanent new skin. Also, if something happens, like he gets a scrape or a cut, will his artificial skin be able to heal on its own? As technology advances, I think that this procedure will have a very positive impact on the world, not only for certain people with Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa, but with people with all kinds of skin diseases, or even burn victims.