French researchers say they have found a way of using human embryonic stem cells to create new skin which could help serious burns victims. They say the stem cells grew into fully formed human skin 12 weeks after being grafted on to mice. The researchers, writing in the Lancet journal, say the skin could solve the problems of rejection that burns patients currently face. One stem cell expert said they had made an important advance.
For more than 20 years, patients with serious burns have benefited from a technique which grows new skin in the laboratory using their own skin cells. But the technique takes three weeks, putting the patients at risk of dehydration and infection. Skin from cadavers is used during this period to cover the wounds but its availability is limited and it is often rejected by the patient's immune system.
Artificial nets which cells can grow on have also been tried. But they do not work on large burns, where they increase the risk of rejection and disease transmission because they can contain material from cows and other humans.