Why is skin so important?
Skin is the outermost layer of our body. It is the part of us that is first visible to an outsider’s eye. Skin is what protects our internal vital organs from injury and infections from environmental pathogens. It is also responsible for keeping water, electrolytes, and other essential nutrients within our bodies. Not to forget, skin is also necessary to maintain constant body temperature.
What are skin grafts used for?
In unfortunate situations, skin becomes disfigured and damaged due to scarring from skin diseases, burns from fire, or chemicals. Along with the disfigurement, skin injury can lead to the development of life-threatening infections and organ damage.
Skin grafts are not only aesthetically essential but can also be life-saving in cases of severe skin injury. Skin grafts protect patients as their body naturally heals the injury. However, currently, skin grafts can only be done by homogeneous or allogeneic transplant. Homogenous transplant refers to transplanting skin from a part of your own body to the injured site whereas allogeneic transplant means transplanting skin from a matching donor to the injured recipient. In short, skin transplants can only be done between humans i.e. in the same species. The only available skin graft donations are from cadavers or patients who have removed excess skin by surgery following drastic weight loss.
Owing to recent steps taken by XenoTherapeutics, a Boston-based biotech nonprofit we might no longer need to wait for human skin donations for skin grafts.
Just a few days ago, the US Food and Drug Administration has approved XenoTherapeutic’s request on the application of temporary skin grafts derived from genetically altered pigs. For the first time in US history, the FDA has cleared Xenologous transplants. A xenologous transplant is the transplant of a different species organ into another species. In simple words, research on testing pig skin grafts on people who have suffered from severe burns can officially begin.
While transferring the skin of another species, our body’s immune system detects the difference in the skin structure and composition. Any detection of variation from host skin can trigger an immune reaction resulting in graft rejection. XenoTherapeutics has bred genetically modified pigs with skin extraordinarily similar to human skin. These pigs have been altered to not produce a type of sugar that the pig’s skin normally produces. This could temporarily prevent a rapid immune rejection response from the host’s immune system. The concept behind the temporary use of pig’s skin graft is immediate burn treatment followed by human skin graft treatment when a donor graft becomes available.
The nonprofit has been collaborating with physicians from Massachusetts General Hospital to begin conducting the first clinical trials from next month. The first trial will begin with six burn patients to test the safety and tolerance of the grafts. If the results of the first trial are positive, the trial will be followed by two more steps of testing before being approved for clinical use.