A boy suffering from a devastating skin disease used gene therapy to create nine square feet of new skin, covering most of his body – and it saved his life.
Two years later, the boy now needs no medicine, is back to school and now even plays football.
The boy, aged 7, was hospitalised in June 2015, with blisters all over his body, and had lost 60% of his outer layer of skin, before being put into an induced coma to spare his suffering.
Dr Michelle de Luca of the University of Modena got a call from doctors in Germany. She said, ‘We were forced to do something dramatic because this kid was dying.’
Doctors at Children’s Hospital at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany had tried skin grafts from his father and donor skin, but all failed.
The boy’s father said, ‘He was in severe pain and asking a lot of questions. “Why do I suffer from this disease? Why do I have to live this life? All children can run around and play, why am I not allowed to play soccer?” I couldn’t answer these questions.’
The doctors took a small piece from an unaffected area of the boy’s body and added a ‘normal’ version of a bad gene to his skin cell, before growing sheets of the boy’s skin.
De Luca said that by ten days, the new skin was beginning to grow – and after eight months, almost all of his skin had been generated by the modified stem cells.
A German doctor said, ‘This kid is back to his normal life again. That’s what we dreamed of doing and it was possible.’
De Luca said, ‘The boy was so happy with his new skin that he wanted to show off.The parents are very grateful and say their life has completely changed.’