A group of Japanese researchers said that they managed to grow skin cells that can sprout hair and transplant them onto mouse skin. It is the first time a team successfully grows skin cells with sweat and oil-releasing glands.
The new type of lab-grown skin apparently acts just like regular skin cells. The new finding could restore skin in people with severe burns and prevent animal testing of drugs and cosmetics.
But the new advance could also reverse baldness, scientists said.
Researchers explained that previously developed lab-grown skin lacked hair follicles which gave it an artificial look. Dr Takashi Tsuji, lead author of the study and senior researcher at Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Japan, noted that it is the first time skin cells that can mimic the functions of natural skin was grown in a lab.
After researchers implanted the skin cells in mice, the artificial cells quickly paired with the animals’ nerves and muscles. Authors noted that the breakthrough holds great promise for the treatment of burnt patients and other cases that need new skin.
Plus, bio-engineers could use the finding to develop revolutionary treatments for people with scars and baldness. In a world’s first, lab-grown skin now has glands and hair follicles that replicate the real thing.
To create the new skin cells, scientists converted cells from the lab animals’ gums into stem cells. Next they tweaked the protein molecule Wnt10b to promote hair growth on the artificial skin.
A research paper on the feat was published last month in Science Advances.
Study authors also found that stem cells can both cause and cure baldness. In March, scientists learned that as men age their stock of stem cells that was originally designed to become hair tissue can mature into skin cells instead of hair, which results in alopecia, a fancy name for baldness.
Unlike other type of stem cells in the body, this particular stock of cells has an on-off cycle of regeneration. For instance, the stem cells first grow into hair cells, followed by a phase when they remained silent.
Scientists closely analyzed the cycle in laboratory mice. As the animals aged, aging processes led to errors in the building of DNA, which may explain thinning of hair and baldness in humans. The aging processes also destroyed a collagen protein called 17A1, the team found. A separate study had showed that hair follicles were thinner when levels of 17A1 were lower in aging women.
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