SA performs world’s first cost-effective skin transplant

SA performs world’s first cost-effective skin transplant(File photo)

Burns survivors have new hope after a Stellenbosch doctor performed the first successful skin culture transplant using skin “grown” with a novel technique that cost a fraction of the price of other skin culturing procedures.

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With this new technique, Dr Wayne Kleintjes from Stellenbosch University’s Department of Surgical Sciences grew skin for a 16-year-old burns patient for R995, compared to an estimated R1.8 million that another technique would have cost to achieve the same result.

operation, transplant
Doctors perform a skin transplant on a burn victim with skin “grown” using a cost-effective technique.

Last year, November Kleintjes, head of the adult burns unit at Tygerberg Hospital, decided to attempt this sparsely documented technique when his 16-year-old patient, too weak for a regular skin graft (a temporary solution using skin from a donor), started deteriorating rapidly and his weight dropped to only 19kg.

“I knew that we needed a special intervention to save the boy. Even though fundraising had been planned with the family for an Epicel Cultured Epidermal Autograft transplant (like that Pippie Kruger had), there was an import ban placed on the product. The only way out was to make a plan ourselves,” Kleintjes tells Health-e News.

The results were extraordinary, and the patient was discharged from the intensive care unit only two weeks after the transplant. This is the first time that skin cultured with this technique has been successfully transplanted.[quote float= right]”I knew we needed a special intervention to save the boy… The only way out was to make a plan ourselves”

Kleintjes successfully performed the procedure for a second time in February on a patient with burns to 63 percent of his body. The wounded body surface was closed with two skin grafts and the patient was moved from the intensive care unit (ICU) four weeks after the transplant.

This procedure is similar to other techniques that use the patient’s own skin (collected with a biopsy), but the culture method differs dramatically in its relative simplicity, its effectivity, biological safety and modest cost.

The continued use of the technology and the fine-tuning thereof will be the subject of a research study conducted by Dr Kleintjies at Stellenbosch University Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“We are very proud of our clinicians; their relentless quest for excellence and their spirit of innovation – often within a cost-constrained environment,” said Professor Beth Engelbrecht, head of department. “Currently this project is at a developmental stage. Once it gains momentum it could be introduced as part of the normal provincial protocol and could be shared with other provinces and the private sector”.

Until now the outlook for patients with extensive burns was rather bleak. The current conventional treatment methods range from rudimentary management of pain and discomfort to highly specialised transplant techniques, depending on the availability of resources. If they survive, patients faced long stays in hospital ICU units with mixed results at the end of the intensive treatment.– Health-e News.