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Chilean Scientists Create Skin For Burn Victims Using Crustaceans And Stem Cells

By Dialogo
April 16, 2009

Scientists from various Chilean universities have separately developed new techniques to regenerate damaged skin using crustaceans and stem cells. This will improve the treatment of burns and scars, local media reported today. Chemists at the University of Concepción found in the shells of crustaceans a substance called chitin that, after it is processed into chitosan and additives and plasticizers are added, becomes a perfect substitute for human skin. "It is used (...) as a medium for growth, which restored a person’s skin without scarring, unlike some grafts or simple cures," investigator Galo Cárdenas, who is responsible for the discovery, told the daily newspaper La Nación. One of its main features is its compatibility with the human body because it is a naturally occurring biopolymer, which ensures that it will not be rejected and is complemented by its bactericidal action. Moreover, this artificial skin is elastic, transparent, and biodegradable, so that as the layer is smoothed away, it disappears, avoiding the necessity of painful treatment. The invention, which has already been tested on some 50 patients, could be in pharmacies in the next two months, with a cost of around $35 per 10 square centimeters. At the same time, scientists at the University of Valparaíso, together with colleagues from the universities of Playa Ancha and Federico Santa María, are still working on creating skin from adult stem cells extracted from the patient. This approach promises a strong recovery with a lower rejection risk for the patient, as the cells come from the same person. According to Manuel Young, director of the Center for Biotechnology of the U. Federico Santa María, the so-called “mesenchymal cells” are capable of forming new tissues, allowing healthier skin regeneration with less scarring. Young explained to the newspaper La Tercera that these cells are present in most tissues of the body and reproduce quickly, so they can be incorporated into an implant in three days. Treatments for burns that destroy the inner skin layers are expensive and tend not to be implemented in a timely manner. Therefore, these advances may pose a great opportunity for those who have lost part of their dermis and are at risk for developing lifelong scars.