If you were waiting for lab-grown skin to have the ability to sprout hairs like a Chia Pet, now is the time to celebrate. A group of researchers at the Tokyo University of Science have made a major medical leap in getting lab-grown skin to behave more closely to the way natural skin does.
Prior to this innovative breakthrough, lab-grown skin provided solely an aesthetic advantage for skin graft patients, but the “skin” lacked quality function or interaction capability with surrounding tissues. This new method for growing skin with the use of stem cells, however, now allows not only hair, but oil-producing sebaceous glands and sweat glands to grow as well.
Led by Ryoji Takagi, Japanese researchers worked with immune-suppressed hairless mice as test subjects. By scraping the mice's gums to collect tissue samples, researchers were able to turn those samples into engineered stem cells, called induced pluripotent cells (IPS cells); these cells were then nursed with a set of chemical signals that would make them start producing skin. After a few days of growing in the lab, hair follicles and glands would start to appear.
Though it may take the next ten years to master, researchers are very hopeful that this breakthrough will be able to translate over to human patients in the future. This technology would be a solution for patients with severe burns and skin disfiguration, as well as for people with severe hair loss. Animal testing could also be replaced, as there would no longer be a need for animal test subjects. Researchers are looking at even grander applications for their findings as well, like having lab-grown skin be subjected to different skin ailments to find cures. The use of induced pluripotent cells has scientists already trying to see what else they can regenerate, like teeth and transplant organs.