Rare Diseases

Lab-Grown Skin Saves Dying Boy with Rare Disease

Lab-Grown Skin Saves Dying Boy with Rare Disease
After receiving his new skin, the boy plays on the grounds of the hospital in Bochum, Germany.

A boy who nearly died from a rare skin disease has recovered thanks to an experimental treatment, his doctors announced this week. The treatment? Giving their young patient new skin using genetically modified stem cells.

The young boy, named Hassan, was 7 years old when he was admitted to the Children’s Hospital at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, in June 2015. At that time, a genetic disease called epidermolysis bullosa (EB) had destroyed about 60 percent of his skin.

Patients with EB are sometimes called “butterfly children” because their skin is as delicate as a butterfly’s wings; it can blister and tear at the slightest disturbance. Complications from the disease can include skin cancer and deadly infections. [Bionic Humans: Top 10 Technologies]

In a video interview, Hassan’s father explained that his son was diagnosed shortly after he was born in Syria, and doctors said there was no cure. About a year after his family arrived in Germany, Hassan’s condition worsened. He would ask his father questions like “Why do I have to live this life? … Why am I not allowed to play soccer?”

Dr. Tobias Rothoeft, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital who treated Hassan, described in a statement how deadly the boy’s condition was by the time he was admitted in 2015: “He suffered from severe sepsis [a blood infection] with high fever, and his body weight…