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BACKGROUND: Patients with recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB) have deficiencies of collagen type VII and have elevated levels of fibroblast collagenase, and a greatly increased risk of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. Patients with other genetic blistering disorders do not have elevated collagenase or an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma, despite chronic wounding. The connection between collagen type VII deficiency, increased collagenase, and squamous cell carcinoma is not understood. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Urine from 81 patients with RDEB (39 patients), junctional epidermolysis bullosa (JEB; 12 patients), and epidermolysis bullosa simplex (EBS; 30 patients), as well as unaffected family members of RDEB patients (33 patients), was tested for the presence of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) using a sensitive radioimmunoassay. These patients included many who were enrolled in the Epidermolysis Bullosa Registry and others who were referred by their physicians. RESULTS: Fifty-one percent of patients with RDEB had elevated levels (> 5000 pg/g) of urinary bFGF. In contrast, none of the patients with JEB had elevated levels of bFGF. Twenty-one percent of clinically unaffected family members had elevated levels of bFGF, and 13% of patients with EBS had elevated levels of bFGF. The frequency of elevated bFGF values among all groups was statistically significant (p = 0.002), and the levels of bFGF in RDEB patients were significantly elevated compared with those of other groups (p < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: We have found that patients with RDEB have elevated levels of bFGF, which may contribute to increased fibroblast collagenase and the development of squamous cell carcinoma. These results suggest a novel treatment for RDEB, namely, angiogenesis inhibitors, which may antagonize the effects of bFGF in this disorder. There are currently no other means of treatment for this disorder, which has a high morbidity and mortality rate.