Looks like scientists want to replace all your body parts with artificial organs. If you are an amputee, there’s a bionic finger that can sense touch. But what if you are a burn victim or just prematurely bald? Well, there’s again a solution for you. A team of Japanese biomedical researchers at the Tokyo University of Science, which is led by Ryoji Takagi, have just made a major breakthrough in developing the largest organ of the human body: skin. The team developed an artificial skin tissue that not only contains hair follicles, but also sweat glands and sebaceous glands.
To create the skin, scientists took cells from mice and transformed them into commenced pluripotent (unconditioned cells that can turn into any type of cell in the body) stem cells using chemicals. Then they recreated the skin’s chemical environment to convert those cells into skin cells. Researchers produced batches of cells to replicate real skin, including the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous fat layer in order to create the required functionality.
After the tissues were differentiated and matured, scientists transplanted them onto the skin of living bald mice, where they faced normal development. Beyond that, the artificial skin allowed normal function like hair growth by connecting with the surrounding muscle nerves and fibers.
However, there are still some limitations. Albeit the tissue can connect to nerve fibers, it can’t build them. Patients with severe nerve damage could face problems because of that. Also, the hair growing on transplanted skin will not necessarily align with the skin that appears to the rest of the body. During the experiment, some white haired mice had black hair growing out of their new skin.
“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,” said lead researcher Takashi Tsuji in a press statement.
The technique is mind-blowing but still a long, long way from practical use. Researchers say it could take 5 to 10 years to translate into the human body. But when happens, it will surely be a tremendous boon to medical science.