Scientists have used mouse stem cells to create a highly realistic lab-grown skin that contains sweat glands and hair follicles.
Why it matters:
A major drawback of existing skin grafts is that they don’t always look or function like the tissue they’re replacing — for instance, producing sweat or protective oils. Patients who receive skin grafts often have to oil them to keep the tissue healthy. Lab-grown skin could solve that problem if it was able to replicate natural skin. It could also allow more realistic testing of cosmetics and drugs without risk to humans or animals.
The nitty gritty:
Scientists coaxed mouse-induced pluripotent stem cells into skin cells by recreating the skin’s chemical environment. They then grew these cells in the lab to produce bundles of cells with the three layers of skin represented — epidermis, dermis, and a subcutaneous fat layer — as well as sweat glands and hair follicles. When they transplanted this grown tissue into mice, it correctly connected with surrounding nerves and hair follicle muscles. The findings were published in Science Advances.
But keep in mind:
There are still a few hairy problems to work out. For one thing, the hair that grows on the lab-grown skin will not necessarily match that of the rest of the body; some normally white-haired mice saw black hair growing on their transplanted skin. Also, while the new tissue can connect to nerve fibers, it cannot produce them, so patients whose underlying nerves were damaged would need transplants.
The bottom line:
If this method works with human stem cells, it could someday be a source of highly realistic skin for grafts or for chemical testing.