Swiss startup Curtiss creates new skin in the laboratory. The new type of treatment allows patients to recover faster after surgery and causes fewer scars.
Laboratory-grown skin gives hope to people suffering from skin diseases and burns.
How to help scientists find practical applications for their discoveries and bring scientific developments to market? This question was asked by the staff of the University of Zurich and decided to create a special fund UZH Life Sciences, whose task is to stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit of researchers.
The first company in which the fund recently invested one million francs, was working in the field of biotechnology Zurich startup Curtiss. The name is formed from the merging of two words – Latin cutis, meaning “skin”, and English tissue, which translates as “tissue”. As you can guess from the name, the company is engaged in the cultivation of skin grafts. Developed by Curtiss biotechnologists, the method is designed to help those who need skin graft surgery, such as those affected by burns, as well as all people who suffer from ulcers, birth defects, and other skin diseases.
Existing methods of skin transplantation lead to the formation of painful and often ugly scars, which, in addition to other complications and physical discomfort, also cause psychological problems in patients. The Curtiss method avoids all this and improves the quality of life of patients. It is that a person takes away a small piece of his healthy skin the size of a postage stamp. Epidermal and dermal cells are extracted from it and placed in a test tube. With the help of bioengineering technologies for a month from this fragment, you can grow a piece of skin that will be 70 times larger than the original size. With the help of a hydrogel, the grown cells are “glued” into a dermo-epidermal skin graft, which is then transplanted to the patient.
The most important advantage of laboratory-grown skin is that it is elastic and “grows” with the patient. In other words, those who underwent a skin graft as a child will not need to repeat the operation with age. The graft cultured in the laboratory was named “denovoSkin”. The development of this method began in 2009, and the first patients were children affected by burns, who are treated at the Children’s Hospital in Zurich.
At this time, clinical trials have been successfully completed, and the safety of the new method has been confirmed. However, the unique offer is not yet ready to enter the market. The fact is that the skin is now cultivated by hand in laboratories, and it is expensive and time-consuming. In addition, it is impossible to grow skin “for stock”, because it is made individually for each patient from his own cells.
To reduce cost and speed up the production process, it must be automated. It is for these purposes that the company received from the UZH Life Sciences fund one million francs, says cutiss co-founder biologist Daniela Marino.
Over the next six years, the UZH Life Sciences Foundation plans to invest in other young companies whose innovative solutions are based on basic university research. There will probably be no difficulties with the choice: about a hundred startups have opened on the basis of the University of Zurich since 1999, and the university itself has 300 licenses in the field of medical, information, and computer biotechnology.