In a breakthrough, a small biotech firm in Utah has successfully regenerated skin and stimulated the growth of hair in pigs with abrasions and burns. The milestone could eventually allow scientists to regenerate functional human skin. The approach uses healthy tissue from the patient to grow skin in the treatment of burns and other wounds.

The breakthrough could solve a problem facing the treatment of burn victims. Plastic surgeons are still unable to replace the lost skin of patients who have face serious burns, despite other advances in reconstructive surgery. According to PolarityTE’s founder, CEO Denver Lough, treatments for these patients are still “severely limited,” and are often very expensive. For example, Epicel, a skin graft that sees widespread use in burn units, does not provide fully functional skin. PolarityTE hopes to accomplish this goal.

The firm completed its pre-clinical trial, testing their method on wounded pigs. Their therapy resulted in healing without scars, the growth of hair follicles, wound coverage, and a complete regeneration of all layers of skin, according to PolarityTE.

Pig skin is considered more complex than human skin, so successes with pigs are considered a good sign of effectiveness in humans in later clinical trials.

The firm says they expect to start a human trial this year. Their cell therapy could become available just 12 to 18 months after these trials, according to Lough.

“If clinically successful, the PolarityTE platform could deliver the first scientific breakthrough in wound healing and reconstructive surgery in nearly half a century,” said Lough, a former senior plastic surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The company said the technology could also provide full-functional tissues, such as bone, muscle, cartilage and liver.

Without providing other details, the firm said it would be “be opportunistic with financing” the upcoming clinical trials.

The company calls its product “SkinTE™.”

Announcing the breakthrough, Lough explained:

“These findings using SkinTE™ demonstrate an entirely new and pragmatic system whereby Polarity has used autologous tissue to regenerate full-thickness skin, hair follicles and appendages for the treatment of burns and wounds. This is a first for regenerative medicine and validation of the Polarity regenerative tissue platforms in pre-clinical studies across a variety of species.”

The firm has the backing of Phil Frost, chief of OPKO health and a veteran of the pharmaceutical industry, as well as several other industry executives. The company’s shares rose up to 16.5 percent to $20.98 on the Nasdaq.

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