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No, you’re not reading science fiction. Stem cells were used as a last effort to save the life of a child suffering from junctional epidermolysis bullosa (JEB) – the treatment worked.

The story began in June 2015 when a 7-year-old boy was admitted to the Burn Unit of Children’s Hospital of Ruhr University, in Bochum, Germany. The child wasn’t suffering from burns, but a unique condition known as JEB. JEB is a genetic disorder that causes blisters, scarring, and wounds on the skin. Most children diagnosed with JEB don’t live past their teenage years. The constant tearing and blisters are infected and can cause severe illness in the patient since your body’s skin is the immune system’s first line defense.

When the boy was admitted, he had already lost 80% of his skin, had lost weight, and was fighting several infections. In similar cases, most doctors can only manage the pain, but Drs. Tobias Hirsch and Michele de Luna decided to probe the medical archives for a cure. They happened upon a unique gene therapy that used transgenic stem cells in similar situations, but the paper had only shown success in small samples.

Hirsch and his team tried the treatment anyway. Dr. De Luna took an unaffected piece of skin and used gene therapy to “reprogram” the skin to fight against the genetic defect. De Luna then grew enough of the programmed to cover all affected areas of the patient. The grafts were carefully performed, and the doctors were amazed when all the grafts took and began healing. Two years later the boy has completely normal skin.

Stem cells and therapies helped to save the life of a child, but they are also giving those who suffer from more common conditions a new lease on life. Chronic musculoskeletal conditions like osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease can drag down your quality of life, but those conditions may soon be second-thoughts with the development of stem cell technologies.

Kenneth Pettine MD (retired) of Colorado has demonstrated mesenchymal stem cells as an effective treatment for these types of conditions. The cells helped restore movement and reduce pain in Pettine’s clinical trial patients and could become the number one treatment for sports injuries, combating age, and more. Stem cells are at the forefront of medical research and could someday be the go-to treatment to save lives as the German team proved or help restore lives as Pettine has demonstrated.

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