When burn victims need a skin graft they typically have to grow skin on other parts of their bodies - a process that can take weeks. A new technique uses stem cells derived from the umbilical cord to generate new skin much more quickly. The results were published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine by lead author Ingrid Garzón from the University of Granada’s Department of Histology.
Not only can the stem cells develop artificial skin more quickly than regular normal skin growth, but the skin can also be stored so it is ready right when it is needed. Tens of thousands of grafts are performed each year for burn victims, cosmetic surgery patients, and for people with large wounds having difficulty healing. Traditionally, this involves taking a large patch of skin (typically from the thigh) and removing the dermis and epidermis to transplant elsewhere on the body.
The artificial skin requires the use of Wharton's jelly mesenchymal stem cells. As the name implies, Wharton’s jelly is a gelatinous tissue in the umbilical cord that contains uncommitted mesenchymal stem cells (MSC). The MSC is then combined with agarose (a polysaccharide polymer) and fibrin (the fibrous protein that aids in blood clotting). This yielded two results: skin and the mucosal lining of the mouth. The researchers are very pleased to have found two new uses for the stem cells of Wharton’s jelly, which have not previously been researched for epithelial applications.
Once the epithelial tissues have been created, researchers can store it in tissue banks. If someone is brought into the hospital following a devastating burn or accident, the tissue is ready to graft immediately; not in a few weeks. However, the stem-cell skin is not able to fully differentiate in vitro. After the graft, it has complete cell-cell junctions and will develop all of the necessary layers of normal epithelial tissue.
The MSCs are taken from the umbilical cord after the baby has been born, which poses no risk to either the mother or the child. This method is relatively inexpensive and has been shown to be more efficient than stem cells derived from bone marrow.