Scientists from the RIKEN Centre for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Japan have grown a skin tissue with sebaceous glands and hair follicles. The lab-grown skin tissue formed the proper connections to nerves and muscle fibres after its implant on mice.

The study published on April 1 in the journal Science Advances states that this could help patients in need of new skin, including burn patients. This solves the problem of current bioengineered organs that do not function like natural organs. In this case, skin tissue that does not have oil and sweat glands would allow it to function like a normal tissue.

“Up until now, artificial skin development has been hampered by the fact that the skin lacked the important organs, such as hair follicles and exocrine glands, which allow the skin to play its important role in regulation,” says lead researcher Takashi Tsuji of the RIKEN Centre for Developmental Biology. “With this new technique, we have successfully grown skin that replicates the function of normal tissue.”

Scientists have successfully grown complex skin tissue that could help burn patients. Photo from Pixabay/miapowterr

Scientists have successfully grown complex skin tissue that could help skin transplant patients. Photo from Pixabay/miapowterr

The researchers gathered cells from gums of the mice and converted them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which are adult cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to an embryonic stem cell–like state. Using the Wnt10b signalling, they then created embryoid bodies (EBs) from iPS.  These are clumps of cells that slightly resembles the developing embryo.

The team implanted EBs into immune-deficient mice. These EBs changed into differentiated tissue like what is observed in an embryo.

The differentiated tissue was removed from the mice and implanted into the skin tissue of other mice. The research team observed that this connected with surrounding nerves and muscle tissues and developed into the other mice’s integumentary tissue or the tissue between the inner and outer skin that regulates fat excretion and hair shaft growth.

Moreover, the researchers believe that apart from helping those patients who require skin transplant, this could also stop the use of animals to test chemicals.

“We are coming ever closer to the dream of being able to recreate actual organs in the lab for transplantation, and also believe that tissue grown through this method could be used as an alternative to animal testing of chemicals,” Takashi Tsuji says.