Researchers develop lab grown skin

Skin created from stem cells and grown in a lab could be used for testing drugs and cosmetics, and for development of new treatments for skin disorders, according to scientists.

An international team of researchers claimed it was the first to create lab-grown epidermis -- the outermost layer of skin -- that had a functional barrier like real skin.

The functional barrier does not allow water to escape the body and keeps germs and toxins out. According to the authors, until now, no one had successfully grown epidermis with a functional barrier, which was needed for drug testing.

The research is described in the current issue of the journal Stem Cell.

A King's College London news release quotes Dr Theodora Mauro as saying that the ability to create an unlimited amount of genetically identical skin samples "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 (eczema)."

She added, the model could be used to study how the skin barrier developed normally, how the barrier was impaired in different diseases and how its repair and recovery could be stimulated.

The international team led by researchers from Kings College London (KCL) developed the epidermis using pluripotent stem cells, cells that are capable of growing in a variety of ways to fit different functions.

Tissue engineers, had until now struggled to grow the complex epidermis with its protective barrier.

The published study describes how stem cells were induced into producing an unlimited supply of keratinocytes (skin cells) that were then exposed to a number of humidities and built into layers until they formed a functioning barrier identical to skin.

It was shown in biopsies that keratinocytes developed from stem cells revealed no significant difference in their structural or functional properties compared with the outermost layer of normal human skin.

According to Dr Dusko Ilic, head of the KCL research team, the team's method could 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.