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Fetal Skin Cells May Treat Burns

I'm Shep O'Neal with the VOA Special English Health Report.

A method tested in Switzerland may offer a new way to treat burns. Researchers used skin cells grown from a fetus to treat serious burns in eight children. Some of the burns were the most severe kind.

The skin cells came from a pregnancy that ended when the mother had an abortion at fourteen weeks. She gave the scientists permission to use four centimeters of skin from her fetus.

The cells divided in a laboratory. Then the scientists mixed the cells with collagen. Collagen is a protein that enables skin to stretch. The researchers say this process can provide many small pieces of skin tissue.

They placed some of the pieces on top of the wounds of the children. The pieces of tissue were replaced with fresh ones every three to four days. The scientists say the process was not at all difficult. The children were between the ages of fourteen months and nine years old.

Usually, doctors use skin from other parts of a patient’s body to repair damage from burns. The process is called grafting. However, those skin cells reproduce slowly and sometimes painfully. And the new skin often does not look good.

Patrick Hohlfeld of the University Hospital of Lausanne led the study. He says members of his team were surprised at the results. He says they expected the fetal tissue to work much the same as the skin grafts. The British medical magazine The Lancet reported the findings.

The report says the wounds on the young burn patients healed in about fifteen days. Most graft treatments take six times longer. And the scientists say the repairs were complete. Most of the children recovered full use of the damaged areas. The researchers followed the progress for up to two years.

Other researchers say the results of the Swiss experiment still need to be compared to current burn treatments. They noted that no one knows if the burns on the children would have healed without the fetal cell treatment.

And questions have been raised about the morality in the use of tissue from an aborted fetus. The Washington Post published a letter from a policy expert at the Christian Medical Association. He says mistreatment of early human life can easily progress to other groups in society.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Caty Weaver. Our reports are on the Web at I'm Shep O'Neal.