The Apache Pow Wow

Scientific Alternative to Skin

Kaitlin Lee, Staff Writer

For his entire life, nine-year-old Hassan had skin as delicate as a butterfly’s wing. He is one of 500,000 people worldwide who is affected by a form of a rare genetic disease called epidermolysis bullosa. This condition causes the skin to be so delicate, it can blister and erode due to something as simple as bumping into a table or the light friction of clothing. Because of this, it can make those who are affected extremely susceptible to infections, including life-threatening ones. In fact, about 40% of those diagnosed with epidermolysis bullosa die before their adolescence.

Hassan, whose last name is unrevealed to protect the identity of his family, was born in Syria. A week after his birth, a blister was found on his back, and he was immediately diagnosed with epidermolysis bullosa. Hassan’s family was told there was no cure.

Eventually, the family found help from Ruhr-Universität Bochum’s University Hospitals. By the time Hassan arrived there, he had already lost two-thirds of his skin. Doctors had trouble keeping him alive in the first days. They changed his dressings, treated him with antibiotics, put him on an aggressive nutrition schedule, and even tried transplanting skin from his father, but nothing worked. By this time, he had lost 60% of his upper skin layer, having open wounds all over his body.

Doctors were preparing to tell Hassan’s family what his end-of-life care would be like, but his parents pleaded for more help. Eventually, they found Dr. Michele De Luca at the University of Modena’s Center for Regenerative Medicine in Italy. He agreed to help Hassan by using genetically-modified epidermal stem cells to heal Hassan’s wounds, even with only a 50% chance of success.

Luckily, it worked. Hassan began to improve immediately. All of the affected areas did not reject the stem cells and thus helped Hassan heal quickly. He was discharged from the hospital in February 2016. Now, Hassan lives in Germany with his family, and his new skin heals normally, doesn’t blister, is resistant to stress, and is even growing hair.

Hassan’s successful treatment has created hope that people suffering from epidermolysis bullosa can find help. However, since Hassan is the first person to successfully have replaced his skin, there still is a long way to go for this to be used for every patient with the condition. In addition, there needs to be more research, as Hassan has a form of the disease that differs from others. However, this study shows hope in improving the future of every person, adult or child, who suffers from this life-threatening disease.

Photo courtesy of SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

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Scientific Alternative to Skin