Recent Research on Bioengineered Skin
The history of skin substitutes dates as far back as the 15th century and was first described in the Branca of Sicily (an early book of plastic surgery) in 1503. Since then, various forms of skin substitutes have been tested over time. Skin grafts including the allograft, xenograft and amnion are all still used at burn centers all over the world. However, with the progress of biotechnology, new skin substitutes are emerging all the time.
As lead scientist Dr. Takashi Tsuji from the Riken Center for Developmental Biology states. “Up until now, artificial skin development has been hampered by the fact skin lacked important organs such as hair follicles and exocrine glands, which allow the skin to play its important role in regulation.” Now, an exciting new development has emerged which will change the face of transplantation and also possibly end chemical testing on animals. Bioengineered skin complete with functioning hair follicles, glands and nerves has been grown using a new technique. News website, The Guardian, goes into more detail.
Working with mice, scientists in Japan created skin by producing three-dimensional clumps of cells that resemble embryos in the womb. Then they implanted these ‘embryoid bodies’ into immune deficient mice where the cells developed further. Then the maturing cells were grafted to the bodies of other mice to complete transformation into the skin.
“With this new technique, we have successfully grown skin that replicates the function of normal tissue. We are coming closer to the dream of being able to recreate actual organs in the lab for transplantation, and also believe that tissue grown through this method could be used as an alternative to animal testing of chemicals,” Tsuji goes on to say. Previous attempts at growing skin from stem cells proved successful in creating implantable sheets of epithelial cells that formed the outer layer of skin, but lacked functions including oil secreting and sweat glands.
Science editor at The Telegraph, Sarah Knapton notes that this new development can also help people with hair loss or alopecia, which occurs when hair follicles are destroyed in the skin. Currently, people with hair loss can have transplants from other parts of the body which still have follicles but the new procedure would make that unnecessary. Only stem cells would be necessary to kick start the new skin growth.
These new developments can also provide an alternative to testing cosmetics and household products on animals. Animal testing is currently illegal in the UK and other EU countries but continues in other parts of the world.
With so many beneficial results, this is an amazing new technology indeed. There is no telling where it might take us next.