A revolutionary artificial skin that can perspire and grow hair has been developed by a team of scientists in Japan, opening possibilities of creating functional skin transplants for patients with skin diseases, as well as severe burns.
Using stem cells from mice gums, bioengineers from the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) and other organizations in Japan successfully produced complex skin tissue in a laboratory.
When they implanted the lab-grown skin into living mice with a suppressed immune system, the artificial tissues formed proper connections with muscle and nerve fibers, scientists said.
Prior to the study, RIKEN researchers had already developed a simpler type of skin substitute which had been used in human patients with successful results.
However, the artificial skin only had one or two layers of tissue, and did not have hair follicles and glands that secrete sweat and oil known as sebum, study leader Takashi Tsuji said.
Forming Skin Layers
Now, the new version of the artificial skin not only had glands that secrete sebum, it also had three layers of tissue, just like normal skin.
By manipulating mice gum cells and turning them into stem cell-like cells, researchers created a proper embryoid body (EB).
The cells gradually turned into differentiated tissue when they were implanted into living mice. The tissue was then transplanted out of the mice, and was put into the skin of other mice, where they developed as intergumentary tissue.
About two weeks after transplant, hair began to sprout from the bioengineered follicles.
The intergumentary tissue is located between the inner and outer skin, and is responsible for most of the skin function in aspects of fat excretion and hair growth.
What's most important is that the tissue made connections with muscle and nerve tissues, allowing it to work normally.
Tsuji believes the artificial skin is one step closer to their goal of recreating actual organs in laboratories for transplantation. The tissue could also be turned into skin samples that drug and cosmetic companies can use as a substitute for animal testing, he said.
Professor John McGrath of King's College London said many other scientists would probably now try to recreate the findings and use them for different purposes, such as recreating skin diseases in a dish and applying treatments.
"There will be lots of benefits for immediate use, as well as for translational science," said McGrath.
Meanwhile, the research team is currently trying to create other organs associated with skin tissue, such as salivary glands and teeth.
The findings of the study are featured in the journal Science Advances.