Children suffering from burns injuries have been healed using skin samples grown from the cells of a miscarried foetus, say Swiss researchers.
They said the groundbreaking procedure, which was carried out at Lausanne University Hospital, offered the hope of rapid and complication-free treatment.
The study, which was published in the medical journal The Lancet, reported that a bank of foetal skin cells was developed from a single donation of foetal skin. The mother, who had miscarried after 14 weeks of pregnancy, had consented to the donation, it said.
The eight children, who had a combination of second- and third-degree burns, were treated as outpatients and the healing process took just two weeks. The skin samples were placed on the lesions, which were then bandaged.
Led by Patrick Hohlfeld, the medical team found that several million skin samples could be constructed from just one donation of foetal skin.
"Normally, these children would have needed skin grafts, but thanks to the very favourable conditions created by contact with the foetal skin, their skin regenerated rapidly itself," Hohlfeld told swissinfo.
Hohlfeld has applied for a patent on the use of foetal skin cells for the treatment of skin disorders under the company name Neocutis.
"This simple technique provided complete treatment without auto-grafting, showing that foetal skin cells might have great potential to treat burns and eventually acute and chronic wounds of other types," said the researchers.
The standard treatment for burns involves using healthy skin grafts taken from the patient's body. This new method could help solve the problem of skin-graft supply and potential scarring.
But the British Association of Plastic Surgeons has cast doubt on the findings, saying there was no proof the wounds would not have healed by themselves.
A member of the association, Nicholas Parkhouse, told BBC News Online that the concept was interesting, but that the study did not prove that it worked.
"These burns may well have healed on their own account and this is the problem with research into treating burns - it is hard to get a comparison," said Parkhouse.
Hohlfeld does not entirely reject the criticism and said it was clear the that the test should be run again. "For the moment, it is just a pilot test," he said.
swissinfo with agencies
Using a section of skin taken from a single foetus, doctors in Lausanne cultivated multiple skin samples to treat eight children.
The technique is simple and helped the children's burns heal quickly.
If this technique - which is the subject of a patent application – gains acceptance, it could resolve the problem of skin tissue supply for burns victims.