Japanese scientists have performed a skin transplant on mice using 3-D bioengineered tissue generated from pluripotent stem cells. These cells – which consisted of multiple layers, including sweat glands and hair follicles – were successfully integrated into the animal transplant recipient.
The skin is the largest organ system in the body and contains many different tissue types including sebaceous glands, sweat glands and hair follicles. The organ relies on these varied cell types to regulate body temperature, receive sensory input and protect the body from pathogens.
The researchers generated induced pluripotent stem cells from mouse-derived gum cells by exposing them to a chemical bath. Once the cells were transformed into an embryonic state, they were induced to differentiate into the multiple layers and cell types that make up the integumentary organ system of the skin.
This complex system of skin cells were then implanted into a mouse with a suppressed immune system. The researchers found that the cells were able to assimilate with the surrounding cells, and even sprout hairs. According to the researchers, it may take five to ten years for this technique to be applied to human patients.
Dr. Takashi Tsuji of the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Kobe, and his colleagues, believe that this technique could be more successful than current skin cell grafting techniques which are unable to grow cells that display the full range of skin functions. One major application of the technology could be in the treatment of burn victims.
“Up until now, artificial skin development has been hampered by the fact that the skin lacked the important organs, such as hair follicles and exocrine glands, which allow the skin to play its important role in regulation,” said Tsuji, who is also the senior author on the publication. “With this new technique, we have successfully grown skin that replicates the function of normal tissue. We are coming ever closer to the dream of being able to recreate actual organs in the lab for transplantation.”
The bioengineered skin cells could also be used to produce living skin samples for pharmaceutical or cosmetic companies to perform toxicity testing. The research – published in the journal, Science Advances – suggests the tissue may be a viable alternative to animal testing.
The research represents a significant step forward in the field of regenerative medicine. According to Dr. John McGrath, a professor of molecular dermatology at King’s College London, the new findings have been much anticipated, and will have a significant impact on the goal of generating functional skin tissue for patients.
“It’s recapitulating normal skin architecture,” said McGrath. “[Today’s skin grafts] function, but they don’t really look like or behave like skin. If you don’t have the hair follicles and you don’t have the sweat glands and things, it’s not going to function as skin.”
McGrath anticipates that many laboratories will be working towards reproducing this research, as well as manipulating it to work for various medical applications. “There will be lots of benefits for immediate use, as well as for translational science,” said McGrath.