+
Heroes

Dying 'butterfly child' saved thanks to a radical skin replacement.

Doctors saved the life of a dying boy by replacing 80% of his skin with a last-chance experimental gene therapy.

Not only did he survive, but thanks to the therapy, the boy may even be free of the effects of the devastating genetic condition that nearly killed him.

In June 2015, a 7-year-old boy named Hassan arrived in the burn unit of a German children's hospital.

Hassan was gravely ill, close to dying. More than half of the skin on his body was gone. But though he was in the burn unit, these wounds weren't burns.


Hassan was born in Syria with a devastating and often deadly genetic condition called junctional epidermolysis bullosa, or JEB.

Epidermolysis bullosa is the result of a mutation in a person's genes and makes a person's skin fragile. Kids with the condition are sometimes called "butterfly children" because their skin is said to be as fragile as a butterfly's wings. Even the slightest touch can lead to wounds or blisters — and that's on a good day.

An out-of-control skin infection linked to his condition had landed Hassan in the hospital in the worst shape of his life. Only the skin on Hassan's head and a small portion of one leg remained intact and untouched.

"He was in severe pain and asking a lot of questions," Hassan's father said, as reported by the AP. "'Why do I suffer from this disease? Why do I have to live this life? All children can run around and play, why am I not allowed to play soccer?' I couldn’t answer these questions."

The German doctors tried to give Hassan a skin graft from his father, but it didn't take. The pain ended up being so bad that Hassan needed to be placed in a medically-induced coma. Desperate, and out of conventional options, the Germans called up Dr. Michele de Luca, a specialist from the University of Moderna who specialized in regenerative medicine.

"We were forced to do something dramatic because this kid was dying," de Luca said.

It was time to experiment. De Luca figured, if a faulty gene in the boy's skin was a problem, to heck with it. Why not just grow him new skin from scratch?

A sheet that could contain the tweaked skin cells. Photo from CMR Unimore/Nature.

Our skin naturally replaces itself about once a month thanks to regenerative stem cells deep inside it. If de Luca could fix the faulty gene in just these cells in particular, eventually all of Hassan's skin would contain the new, fixed gene.

De Luca removed a patch of the boy's undamaged skin and, through genetic editing, was able to find some of these cells, insert a working copy of the suspect gene, and then grow the cells into large sheets, which were then grafted onto Hassan's body.

This technique had been attempted before but was still experimental and only on a very small area of skin. By the time de Luca and his team were done, their new, healthy skin would end up covering about 80% of the boy's body.

Going this far was unprecedented. As to whether it would work, once the grafts were in place, all the doctors and Hassan's parents could do was wait.

The risk paid off. "This kid is back to his normal life again," said Dr. Tobias Rothoeft, one of the German doctors.

Photo from Ruhr University Bochum.

In the two years since the operation, Hassan has gone back to school and is even playing sports. He doesn't need medication, and if he does get a cut, his skin heals up just fine.

"That’s what we dreamed of doing and it was possible," Rothoeft said.

The boy will still need to be monitored for any potential complications. But for now, things seem good. And an amazing amount of progress on a condition that many thought incurable.

Genetic conditions can be cruel. There are a lot of people, kids and adults alike, who have to live with painful or debilitating conditions, like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia. And we are a long way from being able to help with many of them — the researchers note that this even this therapy might not necessarily work for everyone with this boy's condition.

But this does represent a big, striking win for the field of regenerative medicine. The science is still young and there are many hurdles yet to overcome. But when it works, well, there is at least one set of parents who can attest to how powerful it can be.

The boy's case, and his treatment, were published on Nov. 9 in the journal Nature.

The Prince Charles Cinema/Youtube

Brendan Fraser dressed as Rick O'Connell.

Brendan Fraser might be making the greatest career comeback ever, racking up accolades and award nominations for his dramatic, transformative role in “The Whale." But the OG Fraser fans (the ones who watch “Doom Patrol” solely to hear his voice and proudly pronounce his last name as Fray-zure, for this is the proper pronunciation) have known of his remarkable talent since the 90s, when he embodied the ultimate charming, dashing—and slightly goofball—Hollywood action lead.

Let us not forget his arguably most well known and beloved 90s character—Rick O’Connell from the “Mummy” franchise. Between his quippy one-liners, Indiana Jones-like adventuring skills and fabulous hair, what’s not to like?

During a double feature of “The Mummy” and “The Mummy Returns” in London, moviegoers got the ultimate surprise when who should walk in but Brendan Fraser himself, completely decked out in Rick O’Connell attire. The brown leather jacket. The scarf. Everything.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

A woman treats her miniature pig like a toddler and it even 'talks' with electronic buttons

Merlin will tap buttons that say “eat,” “outside” and “ice cream.”

Photo by Ben Mater on Unsplash

A woman treats her pig like a toddler and the internet can't get enough.

Pigs are cute. Well, piglets are cute, but they usually don't stay those tiny little snorting things very long. That is unless you get a mini pig and name it something majestic like Merlin. (I would've gone with Hamlet McBacon, but no one asked me.)

Mina Alali, a TikTok user from California, has been going viral on the internet for her relationship with Merlin, her miniature pig. Of course, there are plenty of folks out there with pigs—mini pigs, medium pigs, pigs that weigh hundreds of pounds and live in a barn with a spider named Charlotte. But not everyone carries their pig around on adventures like it's their child.

Alali's videos of her sweet interactions with her little pig have gotten a lot of people wanting their own piggy, but training Merlin wasn't always easy. According to Yahoo Finance, the 25-year-old told SWNS that she has wanted a pig her whole life and finding Merlin was a "dream come true," but she wasn't expecting how challenging it would be to train him. If you've never been around pigs, then you may not know that they squeal—a lot—and unless you're living on an actual farm, that could be a problem.

Keep ReadingShow less

Women are looking for love at Home Depot.

Even though people have endless options to find love these days, whether in real life or online, finding the perfect person still isn’t easy. In fact, according to Pew Research, 55% of women believe dating is harder today than it was 10 years ago. So it’s understandable that some are considering ditching the apps to meet people in real life.

Studies show that for people looking for a serious relationship, real life may be the better option.

According to Newsweek, a study by Illinois State University sociology professor Susan Sprecher found that young people who first met face to face were 25% more likely to report feelings of closeness than those who initially met online. Aditi Paul, a communications professor at Pace University in New York, found that people who first met in real life lasted four times longer than those who met online.

Keep ReadingShow less
Democracy

More than seven thousand people shared their best ideas to stop mass shootings. Here are the best.

Everyone agrees mass shootings need to end. But what can really be done?

A makeshift memorial after the 2019 El Paso mass shooting.

As of January 24, 2023, at least 69 people have been killed in 39 mass shootings across the United States . The deadliest shooting happened on January 21 in Monterey Park, California, when a 72-year-old man shot 20 people, killing 11. On January 23, a 66-year-old man killed 7 people and injured another in a shooting in Half Moon Bay, California.

It’s hard to see these stories in the news every few weeks—or days—and not get desensitized, especially when lawmakers have made it clear that they will not do anything substantive to curb the availability of assault weapons in the U.S.

After the assault weapons ban, which had been in effect for 10 years, lapsed in 2004, the number of mass shootings tripled.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

People rally behind a 12-year-old actress who was 'humiliated' with a 'Razzie' nomination

The parody awards show has now enforced an age limit rule to its nominations.

Ryan Kiera Armstrong in the 2022 film 'Firestarter'

Since the early 80s, the Golden Raspberry Awards, aka the "Razzies," has offered a lighthearted alternative to the Oscars, which, though prestigious, can sometimes dip into the pretentious. During the parody ceremony, trophies are awarded to the year’s worst films and performances as a way to "own your bad," so the motto goes.

However, this year people found the Razzies a little more than harmless fun when 12-year-old actress Ryan Kiera Armstrong was nominated for "Worst Actress" for her performance in the 2022 film "Firestarter." She was 11 when the movie was filmed.

Sadly, this is not the first time a child has received a Razzie nom. Armstrong joins the ranks of Jake Lloyd, who played young Anakin Skywalker in "Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace," as well as Macaulay Culkin, who was nominated three times.

Armstrong's nomination resulted in a flood of comments from both industry professionals and fans who felt the action was cruel and wanted to show their support for the young actress.

Keep ReadingShow less

Surrendered mama dog reunited with puppies after she refused to leave the corner.

People surrender animals to Humane Societies for all kinds of reasons, but many do it because they don't feel like they can properly care for their animals anymore. It could be that they have to move to a home that doesn't allow pets or they lost a job, making caring for an animal difficult.

Two small dogs were surrendered to Marin Humane Society in Novato, California and the female had recently given birth to puppies. It's not clear if the previous owners felt like they couldn't care for both the older dogs and the puppies so they just kept the puppies, or if something else prompted the drop-off.

Either way, this mama dog was in distress after being left at the shelter without her babies. She refused to leave the corner of the large kennel and just looked so sad. The employees felt for the sweet mama dog and decided to do some detective work to see if they could figure out where the puppies were located.

Keep ReadingShow less