News Feature | April 29, 2014

Artificial Human Skin Shows Potential For Use In Drug Research

By Marcus Johnson


Research conducted by scientists at King’s College London and the San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center led to the formation of the first lab-grown epidermis. Researchers believe that skin grown by scientists could eventually replace animals in experimental studies for the development of new treatments for skin disorders.

The researchers were able to grow an epidermis from human pluripotent stem cells. This epidermis comes equipped with the functional permeability barrier, which keeps water in and toxins out. To date, no other scientists have been able to grow epidermis with the functional barrier – a necessary element in order to get realistic results from drug testing.

Dr. Theodora Mauro, who headed the research team, said that the research would allow scientists to create an unlimited amount of genetically identical skin samples, which could be used to study conditions, including ichthyosis (dry, flaky skin), or eczema, that are caused by mutations in genes involved in skin barrier formation. According to Mauro, “We can use this model to study how the skin barrier develops normally, how the barrier is impaired in different diseases and how we can stimulate its repair and recovery,” Mauro said.

This research could also hold great commercial potential. Dr. Dusko Ilic, who also participated in the study, says that this cost-effective new method will enable researchers to create larger quantities and a broader array of epidermal equivilents, promoting more thorough and targeted treatment methods. Ilic says, “Our new method can 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,” said Ilic. “Human epidermal equivalents representing different types of skin could also be grown, depending on the source of the stem cells used, and could thus be tailored to study a range of skin conditions and sensitivities in different populations.”

This research was published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.