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Last Updated: Monday, 8 January 2007, 05:10 GMT
'Modified' skin cells resist bugs
Burns
Infection is a big concern with burns
US scientists say they have made germ-resistant skin that could one day save the lives of severe burns victims.

The genetically modified skin cells, when added to cultured skin substitutes, killed more bacteria than normal skin in the lab.

The University of Cincinnati team hope to begin testing in animals early this year, they told Burn Care and Research.

Burns make infection more likely because the skin is less able to protect itself from bacteria.

Combat infection

Serious burns need to be dressed and kept clean to help prevent this whilst the skin heals.

Using genetically-modified skin cells could further reduce the risk of infection, improve skin graft survival and reduce dependence on antibiotics, the scientists say.

Lead researcher Dr Dorothy Supp explained: "Cultured skin substitutes are improving the lives of many burn patients, but they also have limitations - including an increased susceptibility to infection.

"Because cultured skin grafts aren't connected to the circulatory system at the time of grafting, they aren't immediately exposed to circulating antibiotic drugs or antibodies from the body's immune system to fight off infection."

Defence boost

Her team found skin cells genetically altered to produce higher levels of a protein called human beta defensin 4 (HBD4) killed more bacteria than normal skin cells.

HBD4 is one in a class of proteins that exist throughout the body as part of its natural defence system.

It's an exciting development. Let's hope it brings the expected benefits.
Hamish Laing, consultant plastic surgeon

The bacteria they tested against, pseudomonas aeruginosa, is commonly found in hospitals.

The scientists believe adding the genetically modified cells to skin grafts would give the defence system a boost.

Dr Supp said: "If it proves effective in additional testing, this type of gene therapy could be a promising alternative infection control method for burn wounds."

Being less reliant on antimicrobial drugs might also help minimise the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, she added.

Around three million people in the UK suffer chronic wounds each year, including 1,000 severe burns.

Hamish Laing, honorary secretary of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) and consultant plastic surgeon at the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery, said it was a novel idea to make artificial skin that would not only cover the wound but actively fight infection.

He said: "It's an exciting development. Let's hope it brings the expected benefits.

"We will watch closely the results of this research as it moves from the lab to the bedside."




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