Skin has been grown in labs before, but this skin is different, and scientists are excited at the possibilities it presents for medical and surgical treatments in the future.
Researchers, led by Dr Takashi Tsuji of the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Kobe, have finally succeeded in growing all three layers of the skin and not just the epidermis or outer layer. With the artificial growth of the dermis and hypodermis, or subcutaneous layer of fatty tissue, this skin will perform all the important jobs that are required of it.
Cells taken from the gums of mice were treated with chemicals to create stem cells. These were then transformed into a clump of cells that resembles a developing embryo. Transplanted onto another mouse, they soon began to develop into skin tissue. Once it began to resemble skin it was transplanted back onto the original mouse where it successfully connected up with nerve and muscle fibres.
Fully functioning skin
The crucial layer – the dermis – is where hair follicles and sweat glands are found and now that scientists have succeeded in growing this layer as well as the other two, protective layers, it is possible to transplant skin onto living animals and observe its functionality. Transplanted onto mice, scientists noted that hair could grow, and sweat glands performed their role in homeostasis.
Who can this help?
The potential for this achievement to treat people with severe burns and scarring is worth celebrating, but it also offers hope to the many people who suffer from permanent hair loss conditions such as alopecia or male pattern baldness. Such a treatment would negate the need to extract hair from other parts of the scalp or body, since only stem cells are required to start the process.