The 7-year-old child suffered from a genetic disease, which, as a result, made the skin fragile and created blisters and wounds. Practically without epidermis and close to death, the boy received an unprecedented transplant that saved his life.
This 7-year-old Syrian boy suffered from a genetic disease that caused him to lose 80% of the epidermis, and has now been saved by a team of scientists who have been able to develop and carry out the genetically modified skin transplant, which was fully laboratory-created.
Hassan’s disease, the son of Syrian refugees in Germany, was caused by a mutation in a gene, the LAMB3, that creates protein that binds the epidermis, in the surface of the skin, to the deeper layers of the same. The genetic mutation meant that the protein was not produced and the skin developed blisters easily, so the child had wounds and ulcers with regularity that eventually became chronic.
Hassan’s family arrived in Germany in 2013, and when they took him to the hospital to be treated, the boy had already lost the epidermis in 80% of the body, having only skin on the head and the left leg (around the area of the groin). Hassan was given morphine to endure the pain and was preparing to receive palliative care after all attempts at treatment by the doctors had failed.
But the medical team at the University of Bochum Children’s Hospital in Ruhr attempted to transplant the skin of Hassan’s father, but he was rejected by his son’s body. The team’s last hope was then in a group of Italian scientists who developed a technique to regenerate healthy skin in the laboratory.
The Italian team had already been able to transplant laboratory-created skin into different and small parts of the body, but had never tried something similar, which was required in Hassan’s case. Led by Michele De Luca of the University of Modena, the team of scientists began by taking a sample of Hassan’s healthy skin. They then modified the skin genetically, using a virus to deliver a healthy version of the LAMB3 gene in the nucleus.
Thus, the team managed to grow enough skin to cover almost the entire body of the boy, and the transplant was done in two operations, carried out in the year 2015. After a few months, the transplanted skin was already integrated with the deeper layers of the skin.
Human skin contains stem cells that allow it to renew over time, and the genetically engineered cells transplanted to Hassan have allowed it to be renewed once it has been incorporated into the body.
After two years of intervention, and according to doctors, Hassan stays healthy – he does not need medication, his wounds heal normally and he plays like any child.
One risk associated with this type of genetic treatment is the possibility of developing skin cancer, however, the team of doctors and researchers found no trace of dangerous mutations in Hassan’s body.