Doctors Reconstructed 80 Percent of a Boy’s Skin With Genetically Modified Cells
Junctional epidermolysis bullosa (JEB) is a rare condition in which the skin will blister from the slightest bumps or scratches. A team led by stem cell researcher Michele De Luca treated a boy with JEB using gene modding to create new skin cells.
Using Genetic Modification to Save Lives
There exist in the world a rare genetic disease that causes the skin to become very fragile, to the point that it will blister easily from minor actions such as scratching or rubbing. This disease is called junctional epidermolysis bullosa (JEB), and while it may affect less than a million people in the world, it’s still a widespread condition in need of treatment, and one that’s harmful enough to bring devastating changes to a person’s life.
As reported by Science Alert, a 7-year-old boy was admitted to a hospital burns unit in Germany in 2015 due to the fact he had lost nearly 80 percent of the skin on his body to JEB. After traditional remedies failed, the boy’s parents turned to reconstructing his skin one piece at a time. Enter Professor Michele De Luca, a stem cell researcher from the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy. Along with his team, he developed a technique to treat JEB, which involved attaching genetically modified skin grafts to the dermis — the inner layer of tissue that makes up the skin, with the epidermis being the outer layer.
We’ve seen genetic modification used in the past with varying results. In 2016, gene modding was used to make mosquitoes that would hopefully eliminate other mosquitoes that transmit diseases. Last November, genetically modified E. coli bacteria was created to treat metabolism disorders in infants. Much more recently, scientists used genetic modifications to subdue the bacteria Francisella tularensis, which has been used as a bioweapon to cause tularemia — a disease that comes with joint pain and muscle aches.
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