French scientists have found a way to create human skin rapidly from stem cells, a discovery that could save the lives of many burns victims who are vulnerable to infection and now wait weeks for a skin graft.

The scientists made the breakthrough by creating a patch of human skin on a mouse's back using stem cells — cells which have the ability to develop into any human cell.

Skin grafts have traditionally been created from cell cultures taken from the patient — a process that takes three weeks, too long for some patients suffering extensive burns.

The new method using stem cells allows hospitals to order human skin as soon as they take in a burns victim.

"What our findings can provide is a way to cover the burns during those three weeks with skin epidermis ... produced in that factory and sent to the physician at the moment they receive a severely burned patient," Marc Peschanski, research director at the institute I-Stem, told Reuters Television.

"They call the factory and then, immediately, they will get a square meter of epidermis which will be a temporary way to cover the burns," he added.

"We grafted cells on the back of a mouse on which we had created a wound, and we observed twelve weeks later that the epidermis had mended itself," said Xavier Nissan, who took part in the study by I-stem, which develops regeneration therapies using stem cells.

In France, 200 to 300 people a year risk dying from severe burns, said Peschanski, who hopes the new method will become a common therapeutic tool.

"So it is really a new hope for those people and really, any one of us could become a severe burns patient," he said.