Lifesaving 'butterfly boy' skin developed in Italy

Skin regenerated by Michele De Luca's team

(ANSA) - Rome, November 8 - Genetically corrected skin to save the life of a German so-called 'butterfly boy' was developed in Italy, Nature magazine reports in its issue on newsstands now.
    The lab-grown human skin from which a genetic flaw was removed was transplanted onto 80% of the body of a 'butterfly boy' suffering from epidermolyosis bullosa (EB), a genetic disease that makes skin as fragile as a butterfly's, the new article in Nature says. The operation happened in Germany in 2015 using skin regenerated in Italy by the group of Michele De Luca of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. The skin was grafted on in two operations, carried out in November and December 2015 at the Ruhr University in Bochum, when the Syrian-born boy was seven. "Now the boy is well, he's going to school and playing football," De Luca told ANSA. "The boy lives with his parents, sisters and brothers. His skin is stable and has already had several cycles of renewal".
    The request for an operation came from Germany because "the boy, suffering from a serious form of epidermolyosis bullosa, had lost 80% of his skin, he was on the verge of death and in a drug-induced coma," De Luca told ANSA.
    The green light from German authorities for the operation on compassionate grounds was given in September 2015. EB is a rare genetic disorder that causes the skin to blister and burst, leaving raw sores that are susceptible to infections.
    Sufferers have to live their lives wrapped in bandages, and the disease causes them to eventually succumb to anemia, chronic infection, and even early death.
    The skin was regenerated in the Stefano Ferrari Department of Regenerative Medicine of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia.
    The regeneration of the skin was made possible by the discovery of the source of stem cells that enable skin to renew itself continually, De Luca told ANSA.
    "It was a very hotly debated issue and now it has finally been resolved," he said.
    The discovery supplied the first direct proof that human skin is sustained by a foundation of very long-lived cells, from which progenitor cells are derived, De Luca explained.
    "Before this discovery, it was thought that the skin only had one type of stem cells," he said.
    The cells were taken from an area on the boy's body that was not covered with the blisters typical of the disease, he said.