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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 August 2005, 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
Burns hope over foetal skin cells
Burnt leg
The skin samples were placed on the burn, which was then bandaged
Taking skin cells from a foetus may provide a revolutionary way of treating burns victims, Swiss experts believe.

Doctors at the University Hospital of Lausanne treated eight children with skin grown from foetal skin cells.

The wounds closed after just over two weeks, meaning there was no need for potentially scarring skin grafts.

But the British Association of Plastic Surgeons cast doubt on the findings, saying there was no proof the wounds would not have healed by themselves.

The Swiss doctors developed the skin from cells taken from an aborted foetus, an online Lancet report said.

They found several million skin samples could be constructed from just one donation of foetal skin.

These burns may well have healed on their own account
Nicholas Parkhouse, of the British Association of Plastic Surgeons

The eight children, who had a combination of second and third-degree burns from things such as hot oil, scalding water and fire, had the skin samples placed on the lesions, which were then bandaged.

The dressings were changed every three or four days for three weeks.

Report co-author Professor Patrick Hohlfeld, who has applied for a patent on the use of foetal skin-cells for the treatment of skin disorders, said the technique showed "great potential".

"We have shown that foetal skin is a substitute for biological skin that can provide burned patients with a very high quality of skin in a short time with no additional grafting techniques.

"In view of the therapeutic effects of this technique along with the simplicity in application, foetal skin cells could have great potential in tissue engineering."

'Healed on own'

But Nicholas Parkhouse, a consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon and member of the British Association of Plastic Surgeons, said the concept was interesting, but the study did not prove it worked.

"These burns may well have healed on their own account, and this is the problem with research into treating burns - it is hard to get a comparison.

And he added: "Second-degree burns will often heal of their own account - so is this skin even needed?"

Meanwhile, the New Scientist has reported that experiments in mice have revealed that stray foetal stem cells can colonise the mother's brain, raising the prospect that brain conditions, such as Alzheimer's, could be treated by injected foetal cells into the bloodstream.

It was already known that foetal stem cells can transfer from the placenta to the bloodstream, a phenomenon known as microchimerism.

But Singapore's National University and Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology research is the first to show that these cells can enter the brain. The team could not demonstrate whether the cells were functioning.

New treatment for burns victims
29 Oct 03 |  South Yorkshire
No-scar skin graft promise
27 Nov 02 |  Health

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