gene correction before transplant of new skin

Yesterday, the news broke of a series of operations performed on a young Syrian boy named Hassan who had a life-threatening disease, epidermolysis bullosa, which makes the skin liable to rip easily and tear away from the underlying layers because of its poor generation of laminin 332.

The boy had to have 80% of his epidermis (the outer layer of skin) completely removed and replaced.

His father had tried donating some of his own skin but the boy’s body rejected it, so scientists had to generate sheets of skin cloned from his own skin.

But there was no point doing that if the skin was just going to have the same problem, so they had to fix this problem.

The doctors contacted Michele De Luca of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia’s Center for Regenerative Medicine, who had fixed a similar (but less severe) problem on someone’s legs before.

Michele extracted a sample of non-damaged skin from the boy, and subjected it to viral delivery system designed to replace the damaged LAMB3 gene in the skin’s DNA with a corrected copy.

After the virus had done its work, the skin was ready for growing. The scientists grew up to about a meter-squared of corrected skin before attaching it to the boy’s body in a short series of operations.

The operations were such as a success that there are no scars, only mild discolouration in some areas, and the kid can now run around like any other, playing rough games, getting battered and bruised, and most importantly, healing afterwards.

Most people seem impressed with the 80% skin replacement part of this story, but I think the most important part of it is that this was basically an instance of doctors taking a person’s own faulty organ, genetically correcting it, cloning a new one, and transplanting it back onto the body.

I believe this kind of trick can be used for many other disease types – not just skin diseases. For example, it is possible to 3D print new hearts using stem cells from your own body. If your heart is defective for genetic reasons, why not correct the issue before printing?

Lungs, veins and arteries. All of these can be 3D-printed. If yours are defective, it may be a choice soon to correct the defective genes, print new ones, and replace your defective parts.

We can rebuild you!

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