ICYMI: Gene Therapy Creates Synthetic Skin for Boy with Rare Disease

Last week, science continued to break boundaries and save lives. In this case, a new gene therapy was used by doctors in Europe to replace the decaying skin of a young boy named Hassan.

Though it wasn’t the first time it was ever used, it was definitely the most skin that was ever covered on a body which makes it a harrowing achievement of its own. The technique was developed to treat burn victims. The total body surface treated for the young boy was nine square feet.

Hassan suffers from junctional epidermolysis bullosa, a rare genetic disorder that makes fragile skin tear and blister while being prone to infection and skin cancer. The condition grew to such a fatal degree that he was in risk of dying but has thus recovered.

JEB affects over 25,000 people in the United States and over 500,000 worldwide. Most patients spend the majority of their painful lives covered in bandages

Brett Jopelan is the executive director of support group for people struggling with the disease and his own daughter also suffers from it. He has to purchase specialized bandages for her that end up costing over $500,000 a year

Doctors in the field have been blown away by the results of this new gene therapy which proves a giant leap forward. Especially after years of similar treatment in smaller areas of the skin had proved unsuccessful.

Hassan has been living a life of pain ever since he was born due to the blisters that cover his entire body. When he turned 7, he caught a bacterial infection which made him lose two-thirds of his skin. Other than keeping him on morphine to numb the pain, his doctors were at an absolute loss. It had become a matter of life and death until they resorted to simply keeping him comfortable as long as they could. His parents begged the doctors to find a way to stop the pain.

After deeply studying the field, the doctors set their sights on Dr. Michele De Luca, the director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine Stefano Ferrari at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Modena, Italy. He had been known for treating small patches of skin with the same disease. He introduced them to an experimental therapy that was being tested in clinical trials.

What they did was remove half a square inch of Hassan’s skin and genetically engineered his skin cells. In their lab, they worked their science magic and grew the cells into sheets of skin that they were able to surgically place onto the his body to replace the damaged skin. In total, they replaced 80 percent of Hassan’s skin.

“It was spectacular. We removed the gauze, and saw the epidermis underneath. We got the feeling that hassan’s body was recovering, was responding. That was the time where we thought, maybe we can make it,” said Dr. De Luca in an interview with The New York Times.

Hassan was under a medically induced coma throughout the procedure and was in the hospital for almost eight months. He woke up a few weeks before Christmas. The greatest Christmas gift he could have asked for was for new skin. And he got just that.

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