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Bioengineered Skin Gets Closer to the Real Thing

Successfully tested on rats, the lab-grown product has blood and lymph vessels, scientists say
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Skin grafts grown this way might find their best use in patients with severe burns who do not have enough of their own healthy skin available for grafts, the researchers said.

Experts note, however, that experiments in animals don't always work out when tested in people. But Marino said she is hopeful that trials in humans are not too far away.

Not everyone is sure there will be a big role for these types of grafts, however.

Dr. Alfred Culliford, director of plastic, reconstructive and hand surgery at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City, called the bioengineered tissue "a technology in search of a purpose."

"I don't think it will be broadly applicable to many people who need skin grafts," Culliford said. "It may be helpful in burn patients who have had a large portion of their body surface burned and don't have enough healthy skin to transplant."

Culliford said the best grafts for most patients still come from the patient's own skin. In addition, he said he doesn't believe adding lymph vessels to a graft is a great advance, since fluid drainage is now done by methods such as compressing the graft.

But Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician and burn expert at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, saw more promise in the technology.

"Although we are still in animal models, in the near term there is a significant possibility this could remarkably change the way we deal with non-healing wounds," Glatter said.

Non-healing wounds are generally found among people with diabetes or vascular disease whose own skin doesn't function normally. "They don't heal well with standard skin grafts," Glatter said.

For her part, Marino said the newer tissue is a real advance.

"Taken together, it is most important to have both blood and lymph vessels in a bioengineered skin to initiate nutrition soon after transplantation and to maintain the balance of tissue fluids," she said. "This long-awaited step in regenerative medicine is now in reach."

The report was published Jan. 29 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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