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Genetically Altered Cells Prevent Lethal Infections in Substituted Skin

Researchers have developed modified skin cells which on being added to cultured skin substitutes, may help fight off potentially lethal infections in patients with severe// burns.

Cultured skin substitutes are grown in a laboratory using cells from a burn patient's own skin. These cells are cultured, expanded and combined with a spongy layer of collagen to make skin grafts that are reattached to the burn wound.

Dorothy Supp, PhD, and her team found that skin cells that were genetically altered to produce higher levels of a protein known as human beta defensin 4 (HBD4) killed more bacteria than normal skin cells.

HBD4 is one in a class of proteins that exist throughout the body as part of its natural defense system. Researchers have only recently begun targeting these tiny molecules as a way to combat infections.

"If we can add these genetically modified cells to bioengineered skin substitutes, it would provide an important defense system boost during the initial grafting period, when the skin is most susceptible to infection," explains Supp, an adjunct research associate professor at the University of Cincinnati (UC) and researcher at Cincinnati Shriners Hospital for Children.

Supp says defensins could become an effective alternative method for burn wound care and infection control. Using them in cultured skin substitutes, she adds, could also decrease a patient's risk for infection, improve skin graft survival and reduce dependence on topical antibiotics.

UC researchers report these findings in the January issue of the Journal of Burn Care and Research.

"Cultured skin substitutes are improving the lives of many burn patients, but they also have limitations--including an increased susceptibility to infection," says Supp. "Because cultured skin grafts aren't connected to the circulatory system at the time of grafting, they aren't immediately exposed to circulating antibiotic drugs or
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