Researchers Close in on Formula for Artificial Skin

Researchers were one step closer to creating human skin in the laboratory by developing cells that mimic the growth of our own skin cells, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

Currently, the best treatment for patients involves painfully scraping off patches of their own healthy skin from other parts of their body and grafting it onto the injured areas. However, some severe burn patients, babies and elderly people lack enough intact skin to use for grafting. In these situations, cadaver skin is sometimes used, but may be rejected by the patient's immune system.

The lab-made skin available now lacks hair follicles and sweat glands, and only offers a partial solution — although it is grown from cells, it often only consists of a base layer that the patients' own skin is laid onto during the grafting process to give cells a foothold. While it "serves the immediate need" of closing wounds and facilitating the growth of patients' new skin cells, it lacks the proper three-dimensional structure, said Scott Somers, who oversees the Trauma, Burn and Peri-Operative Injury division at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

But a decade ago, University of Wisconsin-Madison pathology and laboratory medicine professor Lynn Allen-Hoffman noticed that one sample of donor skin she was studying had better health and longevity than the others, without leading to tumors.

The serendipitous discovery led her to study the cell line in detail by cloning the cells in order to have an infinite supply of genetically identical ones, and to form Stratatech to try to develop the cells into a viable lab-produced skin product.

The cells continued to grow, forming new skin on mice — and were successfully tested on 15 severely burned humans, Allen-Hoffman said. Mid-stage clinical trials were expected to begin in the next few months.

If so, it could speed the healing process for burn victims and those with chronic skin ailments, as well as eventually replace animal testing for skincare products.

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