Grow A Face Rather Than Transplant It
Stanford University researchers propose to regenerate skin cells from stem cells to replace damaged facial skin rather than the approach French surgeons have attempted recently, partial reconstruction for extensive facial disfigurement.
I'm excited about this for sentimental reasons. A lot of why I got into Brown's Program in Liberal Medical Education was due to my parent's foresight at age 16 to ship me from Peoria, IL to take a summer in a lab in U of I, Champaign-Urbana, where I practiced cell culture technique and recombinant DNA research. One of the dreams I had was that in the future they'd grow cells for organ replacement, and now, more than double that age, we're starting to have the inkling that it could come true.
The reason this is exciting is that embryonic stem cells have the potential to heal and form skin that neither scars during healing, nor has the problem of rejection of transplanted tissue. Current approaches to reconstruction by using cadaveric tissue, requires the patient to be on lifelong immunosuppressive medications. By using cells that aren't seen as foreign, the patient could potentially forego that lifelong risk of contracting illness, since they don't want their body to reject their new face.
It's exciting times we're living in, and recent legislation points to loosening of restrictions on use of stem cells. I just hope it's not due to the lobbying of the cell banks that would love to sell these unused embryos.