Strange but true: Stem cells save boy from grave skin condition
Oklahoman Published: March 27, 2018

Q. The 7-year-old boy lay close to death, having lost most of his skin to a rare skin condition that affects one in every 20,000 babies born in the U.S. Today, he is back to school and playing soccer. What brought about this stunning reversal?

A. When the child's body rejected a skin graft from his father, his prognosis was bleak, reports Tina Hesman Saey in Science News magazine. “People with this condition are sometimes called ‘butterfly children' because their skin is as fragile as the insect's wings.” So even mild bumps can cause severe blistering, which in turn can affect mucus membranes inside the body, making breathing, swallowing and digesting food difficult. More than 40 percent of such children die before adolescence.

Surgeons turned to stem-cell researcher Michele De Luca, of the University of Modena, whose group had been successful in growing small patches of gene-repaired skin for kids with the same condition. Taking a small patch of the boy's unblistered skin, they grew skin stem cells, used genetic engineering to repair the cells' DNA, then grew large sheets of healthy skin in the lab. Eight months and three grafting-surgeries later, that small number of corrected stem cells had replenished the skin, and the boy was released from the hospital.


— Bill Sones and Rich Sones, for The Oklahoman