Smith & Nephew pioneers `engineered skin' treatment

SMITH & NEPHEW, the UK's largest healthcare group, is hoping to introduce a revolutionary new cure for cartilage and ligament injuries based on its pioneering skin-grafting work which uses human tissue from the foreskin of circumcised babies. The new treatment could eventually prevent the amputation of patient's legs and act as alternative to the insertion of artificial knees.

S&N is the first company in the world to develop specially engineered skin, called Dermagraft. It is currently used to help treat foot ulcers in diabetics. Sufferers often lose sensation and have poor blood circulation in their feet, which makes them more susceptible to ulcers. Dermagraft acts a natural cure for the ulcers, providing new skin tissue. Now the company is trying to extend Dermagraft's applications, using the skin to treat leg ulcers and pressure sores. This year it will also start human clinical trials to treat cartilage injuries.

Chris O'Donnell, S&N's chief executive, said: "We have developed an `off the shelf' bio-engineered human skin. It may have a wide variety of uses that could transform our company."

Investment column, page 24