Foreskin for Skin Grafts

Foreskins for Skin Grafts

(Reprinted without permission)

The Toronto Star
One Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario
April 4, 1995

By:  Robin McKie

LONDON  –  Imagine a foreskin the size of six soccer fields.

It sounds like a priapic nightmare, but it's about to become 
reality next year.

A San Diego, Calif., company called Advanced Tissue 
Sciences plans to manufacture human skin grown in vats on an 
industrial scale using tissue from circumcised babies.

From each tiny foreskin the company will generate 23,225 
square metres of human skin, enough to cover the six sports 

It will be used in transplants, for treating burn victims and for 
diabetic ulcer patients.

"Skin is the one type of tissue that grows and continues to 
proliferate all your life," ATS vice-president Gail Naughton 
said.  "That is very useful."

A tour of its laboratories reveals a host of startling biological 
wonders:  Scientists growing heart valves made of human 
tissue and constructing ears out of cloned cartilage.  Similar 
work is going on with human livers, bone, intestine walls and 

"Ultimately, every structure in the body will be available for us 
to re-create," company scientist Joe Vacante said.

But skin production leads the field, thanks to scientists who 
have overcome a basic problem:  how to grow tissue cells.

In the past, attempts at cultivation were made, unsuccessfully, 
on flat, two-dimensional surfaces.

Only recently did researchers stumble on the answer:  three-
dimensional "scaffolds" on which cells can adhere.

This is how ATS is growing its foreskins.  Cells are separated, 
dissolved, and the solution passed over lattices of 
biodegradable meshes  –  to which the skin adheres.

Nutrients and chemicals are added to stimulate growth, 
producing a patch of skin measuring 10 by 15 centimetres that 
is frozen and stored for use by surgeons.

The company expects to create two major businesses from 
such skin patches.

The first will treat foot ulcers for diabetics, which can develop 
into large open wounds, in turn leading to gangrene and 

Highly encouraging success rates were reported in clinical 
trials.  Not only does the dermal patch adhere to the wound, 
but the patient's own epidermis closes over to complete the 

The company expects to get full approval for its skin pieces, 
called Dermografts, next year.

"There are about 400,000 diabetic ulcer patients in the United 
States, and roughly the same number in Europe," said Marie 
Burke, ATS director of corporate communications.  "That 
should generate a $2 billion business."

The second venture will use human skin patches to treat fire 

Treatment with dermal patches should provide the answer, the 
company says, providing protection against infection, without 
rejection.  The pieces are removed once the patient's own skin 
is ready for transplant.

The technique has already notched up some noticeable 
successes  –  including that of 15-year-old Benjamin Paraiso, 
who set fire to himself while making a home-made bomb from 
a bottle of gasoline and a firecracker.

He suffered massive third-degree burns and, because local 
hospitals had run out of cadaver skin, might have died had 
Dermograft transplants not been available.  Benjamin has now 


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