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 Tuesday, 31 December, 2002, 02:15 GMT
Human tissue grown in mouse cells
DNA chain
Gene therapy altered the mouse cells
Gene therapy has allowed scientists to grow human collagen - the tissue which supports our skin - in mouse cells.

The discovery could one day help some patients with a presently incurable blistering disorder.

Collagen is connective tissue, and forms a scaffold which cushions the skin and holds it in place.

In dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (EB), patients lack a particular type of collagen which helps the skin anchor itself to the scaffold.

That's the goal - to help the patients who need it

Professor David Woodley, Keck School of Medicine
Without the collagen "fibrils" which hold the skin in place, even the slightest knock can separate the layers of the skin, creating serious blisters.

These blisters often heal with scar tissue that can cause serious health problems - it may fuse joints and even interfere with the proper working of the windpipe.

Many sufferers go on to develop skin cancer, even at a young age, and the condition can dramatically shorten life in some cases.

However, scientists at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California have found a way of producing this type of collagen within mouse cells.

Lab success

Gene therapy altered the DNA of the cells, which then began spontaneously producing the human collagen.

The cells carried on doing this for at least six months.

It is unsure, however, whether the technique could be used successfully to produce this collagen in a living animal or human.

However, the gene therapy was taken up by various types of skin cell, suggesting that it may be promising for humans.

Professor David Woodley, who led the study, said: "I see patients all the time who would definitely benefit from our better understanding of the basic mechanisms of skin biology.

"That's the goal - to help the patients who need it."

The study was published in the journal Nature Genetics.

See also:

23 Mar 01 | Health
17 Dec 02 | Science/Nature
17 Dec 01 | Health
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