Invention of the Month: In Your Own Skin

By: Zippy Spanjer  |  November 25, 2020

By Zippy Spanjer, Staff Writer

Epicel is a piece of technology developed by the company Vericel. The technology consists of cultured autologous skin grafts, and was approved by the FDA for use in February 2016. Currently, it can only be implemented under the direction of a physician.

The process of Epicel growth is as follows: A 2×6 centimeter section of skin is harvested from a patient and sent to Vericel’s lab. There it is grown in culture: in an incubator, in the presence of murine fibroblasts. Murine fibroblasts are mouse stem cells that can grow into skin cells. The mouse cells are irradiated so they won’t cause infection or proliferate. After 17 days, the new skin is ready for grafting. The grafts are approximately 50 square centimeters. They consist of keratinocytes (skin cells) 2-8 layers thick that will proliferate post-transplant.

Epicel is currently used by people with deep or full-thickness burns covering an area greater than or equal to 30% of their body.

Epicel can’t be used if the wound is infected. Infection should be fully treated before implementing Epicel. Additionally, since Epicel is grown in the presence of antibiotics, mouse cells, and bovine serum, it should not be given to patients with sensitivities to those ingredients.

Risks associated with Epicel are mostly the same as risks of recovering from any major burn wound. There is risk of massive infection, risk of later development of squamous cell carcinoma — a type of skin cancer — and risk of organ failure and death. 

The biggest barriers of Epicel are safety and efficacy. As of 2018, it had only been used on 954 patients. Current data indicate a 84% survival rate, and a graft take (success) of 75%, which is better than unassisted or even allograft burn wound healing.

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