A collaborative effort from German and Italian researchers allowed a child dying from severe epidermolysis bullosa (EB) to lead a healthy, normal life. EB is a genetic disorder which causes the top layer of the skin (epidermis) to become extremely fragile and easily blister-prone. Patients with EB typically do not live past the age of 30, given the exorbitant risk of infections and other complications of having “paper thin” skin, and there is currently no cure. However, a recent experimental skin graft, made from the patient’s own stem cells, allowed a young boy to return to normalcy. The graft’s success comes from a technique of genetic engineering to correct the defective gene that causes EB in immature stem cells, and then develops those stem cells into layers of epithelial tissue and applies them to the patient’s affected areas. Though the risk of such procedures is high, using the patient’s own cells minimizes the risk of rejection and provides a safer alternative to merely enduring this disease.
Researchers at the University of Chicago have developed a skin graft utilizing engineered stem cells that can trigger the release of insulin and successfully regulate blood sugar levels, as well as prevent weight gain when consuming a high-fat diet. This revolutionary treatment could eliminate the pain and discomfort from current methods of monitoring and regulating blood sugar through injections. The stem cells in the graft were engineered, with the use of CRISPR, to release a hormone that mimics glucagon (called GLP-1) and trigger the pancreas to release insulin. GLP-1 is also shown to combat obesity due to its appetite suppressing properties. The engineered stem cells formed into a layer of skin tissue and were applied to the subjects. In animal models, 80% of the diabetic mice receiving the engineered skin graft exhibited the release of insulin following food consumption resulting in lower blood glucose levels and reduced body weight.