Recent research shows how skin grown from stem cells could eliminate the need for animal testing for drugs and cosmetics in the future. The newly discovered artificial skin, or“3D epidermal equivalents,” as researchers refer to them, are the first of their kind with a permeable barrier.
The research was led U.S. and UK scientists from King’s College London and the San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center. They devised the first lab-grown epidermis and their results were recently published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.
Engineers have developed a layer of epidermis that is unique because it provides a barrier to keep water in, while keeping toxins out. This makes it suitable as a replacement for animal testing. Though stem cells have been used to create skin in the past, they were not usable in trials to replace animal testing since they lacked the permeable barrier. The 3D epidermal equivalents are interchangeable with real human skin. There were no clear differences between their structure or functionality.
Dr. Theodora Mauro led the team at the San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center. She said that the skin grown from stem cells can be used to test a variety of skin mutations and that due to the barrier, it could be used to “stimulate it’s repair and recovery.” This makes it a useful tool for repairing skin abnormalities.
According to a press release by the King’s College London, the new skin grown from stem cells could help test new drugs for rare skin conditions, as well as common ones such as eczema, which is identified by itchy, flaky skin. Dr. Dusko Ilic from the King’s College London said that the skin grown in a lab is suitable to replace animals in lab tests for new drugs and cosmetics. The permeable barrier allows them to test creams on the skin and determine how much is absorbed, which is important since too much absorption can cause damage.
Not only is the human skin grown from stem cells a cost-effective testing method, but it will also spare animals from going through procedures and unnecessary testing prior to human trials. Scientists believe that the lab-grown skin can spare the animals used in trials. Animals commonly used in skin tests include mice, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs and monkeys. In some cases, products and drugs were not found to be dangerous until tested on humans, long after animals had been exposed to them. The Humane Society International supports the use of the skin samples as an alternative to animal testing.
Furthermore, while skin varies from one animal to another, the human skin grown from stem cells in a lab offer better consistency, leading to better results during testing. It reduces the number of variables involves to create a clear outcome. As science progresses, there will be less and less of a need to experiment on animals. The lab grown skin is an example of this, as it is a more reliable way to test products before using on people.
By Tracy Rose