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Clinical progress

Promising results for lab-grown skin

Surgeons at the University Children’s Hospital in Zurich have successfully grafted a skin substitute grown in a laboratory onto patients, in what is a European first.

The research has just finished the first phase of its clinical trial, the hospital said on Tuesday. The method only requires a small biopsy from the patient. The tissue sample is then cultivated and grown in the laboratory.

The procedure has been tested on a dozen patients, of which the youngest was seven. The conditions ranged from burns and scars to birth marks. The first graft was carried out in 2014.

So far the results are promising: most patients responded well to the skin, a statement said. There were no infections, and the skin worked well and looked good.

The new method is, compared to current procedures, “absolutely comparable. In some cases, it is actually even better”, continued the statement.

Until now skin grafts are carried out by taking skin from one part of the body to another. The new technique is aimed at, for example, reducing scarring on children who have suffered severe burns and to allow them to return to a normal life as possible. It is also less painful than a normal skin graft.

Work still needs to be done on the pigmentation and vascularization of the grafted skin. But the process is long and needs a number of medical and ethical authorisations.

The consortium of Zurich researchers, who face competition from other teams from the United States and Canada, have spoken of a European premiere in skin grafts of this kind. In all, CHF25-30 million ($26-31 million) have been invested in the project in Zurich over the past 15 years.

The next phase will be a larger series of tests, the hospital said. A move to commericalise the results of the study is already being considered.

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