Swiss researchers have used skin constructed from fetal skin cells to treat eight children with burns, reporting their results in paper published online by The Lancet today (Thursday August 18, 2005).
Skin grafting, where a patch of skin is surgically removed from one area of the body and transplanted to another one, is the gold standard for treatment of deep second and third degree burns. However, bioengineered skin products are also needed to facilitate this two-step surgical procedure.
Patrick Hohlfeld (University Hospital of Lausanne, Switzerland) and colleagues developed a bank of fetal skin cells from one 4 cm2 donation of fetal skin. A woman whose pregnancy was terminated at 14-weeks gave written informed consent for doctors to take a skin biopsy from her fetus. The authors note that several million skin constructs (9x12 cm) suitable for therapeutic use could be produced from the single organ donation. The team recruited eight children with burns onto the study that were candidates for traditional skin grafting. The team placed fetal skin cell constructs on the children's lesions and bandaged them. They changed their dressings every 3–4 days for 3 weeks. The researchers found that all the children had their wounds closed at just over 2 weeks and no child needed traditional grafting because the fetal constructs closed their wounds alone.
Professor Hohlfeld concludes: "We have shown that fetal skin is a substitute for biological skin that can provide burned patients with a very high quality of skin in a short time with no additional grafting techniques . . . In view of the therapeutic effects of this technique along with the simplicity in application, fetal skin cells could have great potential in tissue engineering."