Stratatech Corporation's core technology is a technique for changing burned or ulcerated skin into healthy new skin. [...] The cells were derived from infant circumcision tissue, which is typically discarded.
They are comprised almost entirely of keratinocyte
cells --the building blocks of human skin. The cultured cells grow into distinct stratified layers, resulting in tissue that's essentially no different from normal skin. [...] The cells are therefore perfect for treating burns and diabetic ulcers --covering the wounds eases the victim's pain and also protects against infections. Animal tests have confirmed that the engineered tissue will effectively cover and even heal wounds, and the company now has recent FDA approval to conduct human clinical trials.
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Allen-Hoffmann stood behind Schurr, her mouth gaping in disbelief as she watched him maneuver an instrument she likens to a "big rolling razor blade" to cut the burnt skin off the farmer's body. "He looked like a butchered animal," she says with a gasp. "Blood was rolling off the table. It was amazing." Once the wound was cleaned and Schurr began applying the lab-grown skin replacement, she understood all too well how her cells might help. "You can hardly even see the skin," which she says looks like plastic wrap and feels like wet toilet paper. "It's very difficult to work with. You can't suture it, so the surgeons stapled it on. The patient had hundreds of little squares stapled all over his body." [...]
While enough of the skin Schurr grafted onto the farmer, a product called Epicel, can be grown to cover a whole person in two weeks, it consists only of an epidermis. Scientists know all the ingredients that go into a dermis, but the structure has them stumped. Like spider's silk, the dermis is an intricately woven material with a three-dimensional structure so complex that it hasn't yet been replicated perfectly in the lab. So Epicel must be glued to an artificial dermis that acts as a scaffold upon which a patient's body can slowly build a new dermis. [...]
What sets Allen-Hoffmann's skin apart from others is that it would be the only one that is just as thick as normal skin. The epidermis would be made of her lab-grown cells, but because of patenting issues the dermis is still a secret. Yet there is a hitch: Since her cells never stop growing, they're called immortal. And there is only one cell type in which immortality is considered normal: cancer. [...] Allen-Hoffmann's cells do divide indefinitely in the lab, but -- interestingly -- in an environment that mimics the human body, they behave like normal skin cells. "We are studying skin grafts for the entire length of the experimental animal's life," she says in her defense, "and we have yet to see any tumors or other characteristics associated with malignancy, such as the cells not obeying tissue boundaries." And actually, those facts completely surprised her: She expected the cells would be cancerous too.