Artificial human skin created in a laboratory could replace animals used in drug and cosmetic tests and could also lead to new treatments for skin diseases, researchers say.

International researchers led by U.S. and British scientists say the first laboratory-grown examples of epidermis -- the human skin's outermost layer -- possessed a permeability barrier similar to actual skin, making it a usable material for cosmetic and drug research.

The barrier provided by our skin serves as a protection against the external environment, keeping moisture within and preventing toxins and microbes from gaining entry into our bodies.

The research led by the San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center and King's College London utilized induced pluripotent human stem cells to create a large amount of keratinocytes, the most common cell type making up the epidermis.

"Our new method can be used to grow much greater quantities of lab-grown human epidermal equivalents, and thus could be scaled up for commercial testing of drugs and cosmetics," King's College lead researcher Dusko Ilic says.

The lab-grown cells showed no difference in functional or structural properties when compared to those in the outermost layers of real human skin, the researchers said.

Animal rights activists were quick to applaud the research, which was published in the Stem Cell Reports.

"This new human skin model is superior scientifically to killing rabbits, pigs, rats or other animals for their skin and hoping that research findings will be applicable to people -- which they often aren't, due to species differences in skin permeability, immunology, and other factors," said Troy Seidle of the Humane Society International, which works to protect animals including those used in laboratory research.

The lab-grown skin could drive research into a number of skin diseases in an effort to create treatments or even cures, Theodora Mauro, lead researcher at the San Francisco VA, center said.

"The ability to obtain an unlimited number of genetically identical units can be used to study a range of conditions where the skin's barrier is defective due to mutations in genes involved in skin barrier formation, such as ichthyosis (dry, flaky skin) or atopic dermatitis," she said.

"We can use this model to study how the skin barrier develops normally, how the barrier is impaired in different diseases and how we can stimulate its repair and recovery."

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.