Executive Briefings

Grow Your Own: The Race to Create Body Parts in the Lab

Two years ago, Hassan’s father was faced with questions that he had no good answers for. "Why do I have this disease?" his seven-year-old son asked him. "Why do I have to live this life?"

Grow Your Own: The Race to Create Body Parts in the Lab

Hassan was born with a rare genetic skin condition, called epidermolysis bullosa, that causes fragile, blistering skin. His first blister appeared when he was a week old, but soon after his family fled their native Syria and arrived as refugees in Germany, things got much worse. By June 2015, Hassan was admitted to hospital, critically ill, having lost the skin from almost the entire surface of his body. “Except for his face, hands and feet, he didn’t have any skin left,” his father recalls.

Having run out of conventional treatments, his doctors were preparing to start palliative care. But, as a last resort, they contacted an Italian scientist, Michele de Luca, who had carried out genetically modified skin transplants — but on nothing approaching this scale.

In a remarkable scientific breakthrough, De Luca’s team went on to grow an entire replacement skin for Hassan. It was grafted on, like a patchwork quilt, and after spending months bandaged from head to toe, Hassan emerged effectively cured of his devastating illness. Two years on, he is well, his skin no longer blisters, he needs no medication or ointments, he plays football and, when he gets a cut, he heals normally.

“It felt like a dream for us,” the boy’s father says.

De Luca says that witnessing the recovery produced “one of the strongest emotions in my whole life ... For a scientist working in this field, having these results justifies an entire career.”

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Hassan was born with a rare genetic skin condition, called epidermolysis bullosa, that causes fragile, blistering skin. His first blister appeared when he was a week old, but soon after his family fled their native Syria and arrived as refugees in Germany, things got much worse. By June 2015, Hassan was admitted to hospital, critically ill, having lost the skin from almost the entire surface of his body. “Except for his face, hands and feet, he didn’t have any skin left,” his father recalls.

Having run out of conventional treatments, his doctors were preparing to start palliative care. But, as a last resort, they contacted an Italian scientist, Michele de Luca, who had carried out genetically modified skin transplants — but on nothing approaching this scale.

In a remarkable scientific breakthrough, De Luca’s team went on to grow an entire replacement skin for Hassan. It was grafted on, like a patchwork quilt, and after spending months bandaged from head to toe, Hassan emerged effectively cured of his devastating illness. Two years on, he is well, his skin no longer blisters, he needs no medication or ointments, he plays football and, when he gets a cut, he heals normally.

“It felt like a dream for us,” the boy’s father says.

De Luca says that witnessing the recovery produced “one of the strongest emotions in my whole life ... For a scientist working in this field, having these results justifies an entire career.”

Read Full Article

Grow Your Own: The Race to Create Body Parts in the Lab