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Stem Cells from Hair Roots Give Rise to New Skin

Science Daily, January 4, 2008

Approval to produce artificial skin from a patients' own stem cells has been granted to uroderm GmbH and the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI in Leipzig. This brings new hope to patients who suffer from chronic wounds.

From plucking a few hairs to a growing a piece of human skin in four to six weeks, the process sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. The actual process which is performed in the new cleanrooms at the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI in Leipzig is not as simple as a Hollywood film.

“We and euroderm GmbH have been given permission to grow dermal tissue for grafting onto chronic wounds such as open leg ulcers on diabetics patients,” says IZI team leader Dr. Gerno Schmiedeknecht.

Normally taken from the thigh, a patient's own skin is often used as a graft to treat chronic wounds as a current form of treatment. The treated wound not to mention the thigh, are both left scarred in the process.

“If we produce this skin using the recently approved EpiDex® technique instead, we can achieve the same chances of recovery without hurting the patient. Moreover, the artificial skin grows onto the wound without scarring,” says Dr. Andreas Emmendörffer, managing director of euroderm GmbH.

The fact that the procedure can be performed on an outpatient basis is another advantage of the transplantation. Checking to see if the new skin has adhered to the wound can be done only a few days following transplant. The difference between healthy skin and the grafted skin can not be visibly determined after 72 days.

But how exactly is the new skin grown?

“We pluck a few hairs off the back of the patient’s head and extract adult stem cells from their roots, which we then proliferate in a cell culture for about two weeks. Then we reduce the nutrient solution until it no longer covers the upper sides of the cells, exposing them to the surrounding air. The increased pressure exerted by the oxygen on the surfaces of the cells causes them to differentiate into skin cells,” explains Emmendörffer.

Adding up to a surface area of 10 to 100 square centimeters when pieced together, researchers can grow numerous small pieces of skin, produced individually for each patient. At the IZI, a state-of-the-art facility for producing different kinds of cell therapeutics, the researchers are using new cleanrooms to ensure that they comply with the safety regulations at all times.

“We continuously measure the number of particles in the cleanrooms. If there are too many particles in the air, an alarm goes off,” says Schmiedeknecht.

Depending on how many doctors prescribe this therapy, the researchers expect to grow skin grafts for 10 to 20 patients a month in 2008.


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