Artificial skin from stem cells for fast burn treatment
Sheets of 'substitute skin' from human embryonic stem cells have been grafted onto mice in the laboratory. This is a first and could lead to the development of multiple cell lines to provide immediate treatment for burns patients.
In the case of severe burns, patients are able to have the damaged tissue replaced with skin grown from their own cells. However, this process takes up to three weeks, which can put patients at risk of dehydration and infection until the graft is ready. Occasionally skin from dead bodies is used as a temporary covering, but this is far from ideal as its availability is limited and it could be rejected by the immune system.
The team began by converting embryonic stem cells into skin cells. They then seeded the cells onto a special matrix which acted like an artificial scaffold. The resulting skin was grafted onto five mice, and after 12 weeks the layers had developed a structure similar to human skin. Although these mice had the advantage of no immune defences to reject the human cells, the new technology could offer a temporary solution to human burn patients while the patients own cells can be grown.
The team will now look into the possibility of using multiple lines of embryonic stem cells with various immune characteristics, to provide temporary skin suitable for a wide range of patients.