In extensive third-degree burns, donor sites for conventional split thickness skin grafts are limited. In such cases, cultured epithelial (keratinocyte) grafts are prepared from small samples of the patient's own skin and expanded in tissue culture, a process that may incur very many cell divisions. Telomeres shorten with each cell division, and are markers of cellular proliferative history. We therefore measured telomere length in healed cultured epithelial autografts from four patients with burns, and noted that their telomeres were shorter than those in non-cultured skin from the same individuals, and than those in skin of healthy donors older than 80 years. Such great loss of telomeric DNA suggests that engrafted cells might have a shortened lifespan, which could have negative repercussions on the long-term viability of these grafts.
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