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'Butterfly' boy who lost 80% of his skin is being saved by scientists

21 months ago, seven-year-old Hassan was close to death. He had been put into a coma after losing 80 per cent of his skin due a rare genetic condition and his family were preparing for the worst. The young boy, whose family's full name has not been released, suffers from "butterfly disease", a condition that makes human skin as delicate as the insect's wings, causing it to blister and peel off at the slightest touch.

Hassan had been covered with blisters and wounds since he was a few days old and it looked like the condition had finally got the better of him. However, doctors believed they have now saved him after they grew an almost completely new skin for him in the laboratory.

Hassan the butterfly boy Credit: Facebook

Doctors say they grew the skin using stem cells that had been genetically altered to eliminate the flaw that causes the disease in Hassan's skin, and they then successfully transplanted the new skin onto Hassan's body. The development has been described as a major breakthrough in the use of stem cells to treat diseases.

21 months since he was admitted to a hospital burns unit and was close to death, Hassan appears to be fully recovered.

The boy's new skin has been successfully anchored to his body and the symptoms that had plagued him for his entire life have shown no signs of coming back.

Hassan, who was born in Syria but now lives in Germany, is now able to play football and other games with his friends, something which he never used to be able to do due to the discomfort from his blistered skin.

diagram of burns Credit: Nature

His father says that the transformation of his son was "like a dream", adding: "Hassan feels like a normal person now - he's enjoying his life"

The official name for the disease is junctional epidermolysis bullosa and the condition affects around one in 17,000 people in the UK. It's estimated that around 40 per cent of children who suffer from the disease don't make it past the first year of their life, and most of them don't make it further than five years. Until now, the disease was believed to be incurable.

In the two operations that were carried out on Hassan in 2015, doctors used skin that had been created in Italy by Dr Michele De Luca of the University of Modena.

alt Credit: Nature

Before they commenced with the surgery, doctors took a small piece of unaffected skin from Hassan's body and used the gene "editing" to correct it. They then grew more than nine square feet of skin in order to perform the transplant.

Professor Tobias Hirsch, a plastic surgeon from Bochum Children's Hospital, has described Hassan's condition when he was admitted to the burns unit: "He'd lost nearly two-thirds of his skin."

"After two months we were absolutely sure we could do nothing for this kid and he would die."

alt Credit: Ruhr University Bochum

While skin specialists have hailed the work done by the surgeons, they have warned that Hassan will now need to be monitored to ensure that he doesn't fall back into his previous state.

I think we can all agree that we wish Hassan the best in his future. It's an incredible discovery made by those doctors and hopefully it will go some way to saving the lives of more children in the future.