Researchers have grown skin in a lab, with all the features of real skin

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

“Transplanted bioengineered skin created using mouse stem cells labeled to glow green.” (Photo by Takashi Tsuji, RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology)
“Transplanted bioengineered skin created using mouse stem cells labeled to glow green.” (Photo by Takashi Tsuji, RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology)

Related tags Embryonic stem cells Skin

Complete with hair follicles and sebaceous glands, the bioengineered 3D tissue has potential uses in cosmetics and personal care testing, say the team at RIKEN.

By mimicking the functionality of embryonic stem cells, researchers “developed a totally new method for constructing an entire ‘integumentary’ organ” ​–which is the skin and all its constituent parts—explains an item published earlier this month on the institution’s site.

And there’s also speculation about the potential this sort of lab-generated tissue has for people with hair loss.  

Science in action

The team began with cells from the gums or stomachs of mice and introduced a sort of reprogramming virus that made the starter cells pluripotent (that is, able to generate several cell types), as embryonic stem cells are.

Clusters of these cells suspended in a collagen gel were transplanted into the bodies of mice. Weeks later, the fully functional skin was removed and transplanted onto mouse skin. It cooperated as hoped with the surrounding nerves and muscles. And because the mice in question had no immune function, the tissue was not rejected.

While it appears to be a big success, this was hardly the team’s first experiment in this area. For the past several years Takashi Tsuji, of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, and his team have purposefully found ways to use stem cells to grow small organs, like glands, hair follicles, and even teeth, in the lab.  

Testing on skin

Effective clinical and safety testing methods that are less invasive to people and don’t harm animals are increasingly in demand.  While using mice with re-engineered immune systems to grow tissue samples may not fall under the guise of ‘cruelty-free testing,’ this latest research could lead to something quite useful for the personal care industry.

Bioprinted skin is another testing option that multinationals like L’Oréal have invested in.​ Just about one year ago, that company struck a deal with Organovo in which “L’Oréal will have the exclusive right to use the skin tissue models for the development, manufacturing, testing, evaluation and sale of non-prescription cosmetic, beauty, dermatology and skin care products,”​ according to an SEC filing about the agreement.

And to serve the industry with less invasive testing, companies like Genemarker have introduced tape strip analysis​ as an alternative way of gathering genomic data on efficacy and safety.  

Read more about the RIKEN research here​.

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