Texas baby born without skin getting flesh grown in lab

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A biopharmaceutical company in Boston is now growing skin for a San Antonio baby who was born on New Year's Day weighing only three pounds and missing nearly all of his skin.

At four-and-a-half months old, Ja'bari Gray is steadily gaining weight, weaning off pain medications and may soon be breathing on his own inside the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.

"Every single doctor that's seen him are like, 'Wow, he has improved.' For only being here a month and a couple of days, he's shown nothing but improvement," said Ja'bari's mother, Priscilla Maldonado.

But the baby still has a very long way to go.

RELATED: Baby born with rare skin disease transferred to Houston for life-saving treatment

His eyelids are fused shut and most of his body is still missing skin, but that is about to change.

For the past week, technicians in Boston have been using a biopsy from Ja'bari's skin to grow more of it.

The cells are isolated in trays, fed nutrients and spread.

"They grow and divide, making a very thin sheet of about four to eight cells thick, across the bottom of flask we grow them in," said Dr. Jon Hopper, chief medical officer at Vericel Corporation.

The biopharmaceutical company usually works with burn victims, but doctors have asked them to take on Ja'bari's case.

"Our job is exactly the same. We're taking skin cells from a biopsy, growing them into sheets so the surgeons can then place them back on the patient," Hopper said.

As for the little boy's condition, what was once thought to be a rare skin disease is now turning into a deeper mystery.

"He would technically be the first baby to ever have whatever he does have," Maldonado said.

Doctors at the Texas Children's Hospital say his original diagnosis in San Antonio was incorrect, and they are still working on further testing and may be naming it themselves.

"Whatever Ja'bari does have, it is a skin condition, we just don't know what it is," said Maldonado.

Next Friday will be his biggest surgery yet. Doctors will be using the lab-grown skin to cover Ja'bari's arms, chest and back. They also plan to open his eyes.

"It's like a happy moment because we never got to see his eyes from the day he was born," Maldonado said.

The family is still taking any donations as they live out of a Houston hotel room. You can help by following the link to their GoFundMe account.

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