The novel type of therapy published in a preliminary study this week in the Lancet is likely to generate some controversy due to the use of skin cells of aborted fetuses.
Using human fetal cells, Swiss scientists have developed a new type of “biological bandage” for severe burns that appears to dramatically speed and improve the healing process and may well prove an effective treatment for other serious skin wounds.
The research team, led by Patrick Hohlfeld at the University Hospital of Lausanne, Switzerland, treated eight severely burned children using panels of artificial fetal skin, all grown from a stamp-sized skin sample from an aborted 14-week-old fetus three years ago. A woman whose pregnancy was terminated at 14-weeks gave written informed consent for doctors to take a skin biopsy from her fetus.
“We had expected that the fetal skin would act as a graft, and it did not,” said Dr. Hohlfeld. “Instead we found that it acted more like a biological bandage that stimulated healing. It was supple; there was no scarring or retraction – it was really different than grafted skin”
Because fetal cells grow well in the lab, millions of artificial fetal skin bandages could be created from one small fetal skin sample, Dr. Hohlfeld said, minimizing if not eliminating ethical concerns. “It is true the origin is a terminated fetus, but one biopsy is enough to treat 1,000 patients for years,” he said…
Burn specialists cautioned that the new technique would need to be studied in far larger controlled trials to ensure that the wound healing observed in the eight children was better than it would have been without the fetal cell panels. Peter Dziewulski, a consultant at the St. Andrews Center for Plastic Surgery and Burns in Essex, England, said: “This is an interesting and exciting innovation, but a lot more needs to be done before it can be said to revolutionize care.”
The International Herald Tribune has more…