A new study reports that researchers have successfully manufactured a functional human skin equivalent using stem cells. Why are we excited about this? It could offer a cost-effective and ethical alternative to the use of animals in testing drugs and cosmetics and glade fresheners. It could also help us to develop therapies for skin disorders.
The epidermis, the outer layer of skin, is predominately composed of cells called keratinocytes and serves as a functional barrier between you and the environment. Human epidermal equivalents (HEEs) have been used experimentally for years, but the previously engineered cells would not come together to form a functional barrier. This new procedure uses stem cells to produce keratinocytes that closely match those obtained and produced from healthy skin biopsies. A four-step process converted stem cells (cells that have the potential to develop into any human tissue) into a lab grown epidermis with no difference in structure or function from that of of human skin.
Science now has an unlimited supply of genetically identical cells to study everything from dry skin to dermatitis to psoriasis. Hopefully in the future, these human skin equivalents can be used in regenerative and aesthetic medicine as well (think skin grafts). Researchers also expect that they can produce these cells in large quantities to allow for commercial testing of drugs and cosmetics. Given recent EU ban on import and sale of cosmetics tested on animals, I hope for their sake that they patented the procedure. This could be huge.
So let's give a big tip of the hat to the team from King's College London and the San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center, who may have just majorly impacted our ability to study skin disorders and changed the way we use animals in some forms of research.
Working title to this post was: Human Skin: Now available in bulk