Funding holds back skin cloning in SA

2012-06-29 12:15
Earlier this month the first grafting procedure involving cloned skin in Africa was performed on 3-year-old Isabella "Pippie" Kruger. (File, Beeld)

Earlier this month the first grafting procedure involving cloned skin in Africa was performed on 3-year-old Isabella "Pippie" Kruger. (File, Beeld)

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Pippie's skin graft a success

2012-06-19 08:45

The first cloned skin graft to be performed in South Africa is a success. The skin graft was performed last week on three-year-old Isabella Pippie Kruger, who sustained third degree burns to 80% of her body. WATCH

Cape Town - Lack of funding is preventing medical researchers and doctors from performing skin cloning procedures for burn victims in South Africa.

Earlier this month the first grafting procedure involving cloned skin in Africa was performed on 3-year-old Isabella "Pippie" Kruger.

The skin was cultivated at the Genzyme laboratory in Boston, US, using small patches of skin removed from Pippie's groin.

The cloning procedure, and having the skin flown to Boston and back to South Africa, cost more than R700 000.

Expensive equipment

The doctor who performed Pippie’s operation, Ridwan Mia, said the cost of specialised equipment and chemicals prevent skin cloning in South Africa.

“Laboratories require expensive electronics which maintain the temperatures required,” he told News24.

A local medical expert says that given the funding, South Africa has the expertise to be able to perform the cloning procedures, and dramatically reduce costs for patients.

Dr Lester Davids, a molecular cell biologist in the Redox Laboratory at the University of Cape Town Medical School, works closely with the Red Cross Children's Hospital and Groote Schuur Hospital.

According to Davids, the university and hospitals have the expertise to perform the same procedure, but lack funding.

"Genzyme has the capacity to employ 100 technicians, where I only have one," he told News24.

Political will

Mia says to perform skin cloning locally will require “buy-in” from the state or private sector. He says that with adequate political will the procedure could become a reality “overnight”.

“I would love to be part of something like this,” Mia said.

Davids is currently exploring the possibility of a funding partnership with Genzyme.

“People with 80% third-degree burns rarely survive, but adequate funding could make a difference in local fire disasters like shack fires,” said Davids.

Currently, the Redox lab is the only South African laboratory that specialises in cloning of primary human skin cells.

In the meantime, his laboratory is working on a ‘co-culture’ system.

Here the focus is not only on healing the wound with cloned cells, but through the addition of pigment-producing cells, attempts to return the skin to its natural colour.
Read more on:    uct  |  pippie kruger  |  health  |  research

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