Stem Cells May Be Used as Skin Grafts
Study Shows Show Stems Cells Have Potential to Treat Burn Victims
Nov. 19, 2009 -- Human embryonic stem cells can be used to produce skin
grafts for people who have been seriously burned, shows a study published in
Though patients have benefited from cell therapy for two decades, the
techniques used have had limitations, write Hind Guenou, PhD, of INSERM and the
Institute for Stem Cell Therapy and Exploration of Monogenic Diseases in Evry
Cedex, France, and colleagues.
In one technique, a patient's own skin cells, or keratinocytes, are taken
and more are grown in the laboratory to replace damaged skin, the researchers
This method has a major drawback, however: it takes three weeks to grow
enough cells, and this puts patients at risk of dehydration and infection.
Specially processed skin from a deceased donor can be used to cover wounds,
but availability is limited, and the tissue often is rejected by the patient,
the researchers write.
So the scientists in this study, employing a pharmacological treatment over
40 days, seeded feeder cells with human embryonic stem cells. The treatment
drives the human embryonic stem cells toward forming an epidermis, the outer
layer of skin the researchers report.
The team says it was able to generate a population of cells that showed the
characteristics of the epidermis. Once manipulated on an artificial surface,
the cells were able to form a layer of skin, the scientists say.
In 12 weeks, after grafting it onto five mice, the skin layer that came from
human embryonic stem cells had a structure the "consistent" with human
"We have shown that keratinocytes can be derived from [human embryonic stem
cells]," the researchers write. "Growing human epidermis from [human embryonic
stem cells] could have clinical relevance as an unlimited resource for
temporary skin replacement in patients with large burns awaiting" grafts from
their own newly grown cells.
Whether this technology can be used to extend the period needed to grow
enough cells for a permanent graft is not known and future research is needed
to see if it is, the researchers say.
In a comment accompanying the article, Holger Schluter, PhD, and Pritinder
Kaur, PhD, of the Epithelial Stem Cell Biology Laboratory in Melbourne,
Australia, say the latest study "takes research into regenerative skin stem
cells to the next level" and "suggests" that cells made from human embryonic
stem cells could be transplanted onto burn patients who are awaiting the growth
of their own cells.