Scientists working in Japan have made a major leap forward in growing functional skin in the lab, which could offer hope for those suffering from burns and even possibly put an end to cosmetic testing on animals. Their results are published in Science Advances.
Growing organs in the lab for transplantation is one of the ultimate goals for biomedicine. The ability to take cells from a patient and then use them as a basis to cultivate a kidney or a liver or some other body part would be revolutionary.
But the main issue with current skin grafts and transplants is that the resultant skin doesn’t function as it should, as it often lack components such as glands and hair follicles. Earlier attempts at producing skin in the lab only made it as far as creating sheets of epithelial cells, or the outermost layer of skin, but were unable to reproduce the deeper layers of tissue. This most recent research, however, has been able to produce fully functioning mouse skin, with follicles, sweat glands, and full “integumentary tissue.”
“With this new technique, we have successfully grown skin that replicates the function of normal tissue,” says Dr. Takashi Tsuji of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, in a statement. “We are coming ever 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.”
The lab-grown skin formed fully functional glands, and even sprouted hair. Takagi et al. 2016
The researchers initially took adult cells from the gums of mice, and bathed them in a solution of chemicals that in effect turned back their developmental clock until they were what are known as induced pluripotent stem cells. This means that the cells could divide indefinitely, and be guided down many different pathways to form a multitude of different cell types, including the skin.
The stem cells were then encouraged to form three-dimensional clumps of cells that partially resembled embryos. These were then grafted onto the skin of “nude mice,” where they started to differentiate, before being grafted again onto a second mouse where the skin fully developed, even sprouting hair.
Not only did it form all the important components needed, but it also fully grafted onto the natural skin of the recipient mouse, forming muscle and nerve attachments. While these developments are obviously very exciting, the researchers stress that there is still a long way to go before this same technique is replicated with human cells, perhaps as long as another 10 years.