Alternative to skin donations

A medical technician processes cord blood into smaller amounts of usable stem cells at Singapore Cord Blood Bank (SCBB).
A medical technician processes cord blood into smaller amounts of usable stem cells at Singapore Cord Blood Bank (SCBB). PHOTO: ST FILE

Stem cells from the lining of the umbilical cord heal deep wounds better than conventional skin grafts, preliminary research has found.

A Singapore General Hospital (SGH) study on pigs found that the wounds healed more quickly when such stem cells were applied, compared with when human skin was used.

The immune response to the stem cells was also lower, said Dr Alvin Chua, deputy head of the Skin Bank Unit at SGH, who co-led the study.

Although the initial immune reaction, in the form of inflammation, was the same for both methods at the start, the inflammation started to decline after around a month for the stem cell model. The level of inflammation was sustained in the human skin model.

In a separate study on diabetic mice, he found that stem cells helped to improve wound healing.

Dr Chua stressed that the results were preliminary and more analysis of the data is necessary to understand how the stem cells help in wound healing and to what extent.

He noted, however, that the abundant epithelial stem cells found in cord lining could help ease the problem of a lack of skin donors.

"If I can get epithelial cells through an off-the-shelf product... I can use them as a replacement for donated (human) skin," he said.

Samantha Boh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2016, with the headline 'Alternative to skin donations'. Print Edition | Subscribe