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Tuesday, 9 May, 2000, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Artificial skin grown for diabetics

Artificial skin is grown in the lab
US experts have approved a product made from human skin cells which could revolutionise the treatment of diabetic ulcers.

Thousands of diabetics in the UK have to have amputations because infected foot ulcers cannot be treated effectively.

Normally, doctors treat the condition by cleaning the wounds, applying dressings and telling patients to avoid putting weight on the foot.

However, Apligraf, made by US company Organogenesis, uses a combination of collagen from cows and human skin cells to make a sheet of material very similar to human skin.

This is sent out to doctors complete with nutrients to keep it alive before it is grafted over the wound.

The US FDA is expected to give the green light to Apligraf for foot ulcers after its own panel of experts came out in favour.

However, it is not yet licenced for use in the UK.

The panel looked at a clinical trial involving 208 diabetics with foot ulcers.

In patients treated with Apligraf, 56% had complete wound closure 12 weeks after initial treatment.

Only just over a third of those given standard treatment had healed up.

Poor circulation

Dr Michael Sabolinski, a senior vice-president at Organogenesis, said: "Apligraf provided effective treatment and did not pose an increased risk of side effects."

A side-effect of long-term diabetes is poor blood circulation to the extremities.

This means that when small injuries are picked up, they do not heal quickly, and are more prone to infection.

Another side effect of diabetes is nerve problems, which may mean that the sufferer does not even notice that the foot is damaged.

Diabetics are encouraged to inspect their feet every day for minor damage, as well as keep their blood sugar levels under good control to lessen the risk of complications.

It is estimated that there are 1.4m people in the UK today with diabetes and probably as many people again have diabetes without knowing it.

FDA approval for the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers would be a major step forward for the treatment, which is already licensed for use on leg ulcers caused by poor circulation.

Apligraf is made from human skin cells taken from the foreskins of babies circumcised at birth.

One of these can yield 200,000 pieces of Apligraf.

The artificial skin has all three component layers of normal skin - if cut, it can heal itself.

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See also:

05 Jun 99 | Health
Diabetic care 'inadequate'
09 Feb 99 | Medical notes
Diabetes
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