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The skin

As the body’s natural outer layer, the skin’s main function is to protect the body against infection, desiccation, the sun’s rays, heat and cold. The sweat glands play a major role in the body’s heat and water balance. The skin is very good at repairing itself and has a good immunity to pathogens.

Medical conditions that can lead to transplantation

However, in the case of major injuries such as burns or cauterisations, these protective mechanisms can become overwhelmed. Poor circulation can also inhibit the skin’s ability to heal wounds. This leads to chronic ulcers – one example are open sores on the legs of diabetics.

Skin transplantations are used in such cases. For smaller wounds, the patient’s own skin is transplanted; for larger ones, donor skin is grafted. As this would be rejected without special medication, it is only used as temporary cover for two to three weeks.

During this time, additional healthy skin cells can be harvested from the patient and multiplied in a nutrient solution. The patient’s own cultured skin cells are then applied to the wound and, unlike donor cells, are not rejected.

Skin tissue engineering is an important research area around the world and cultured skin is already regularly used in clinics to treat smaller wounds.