The development of artificial skin was a major breakthrough, especially for the treatment of burn victims. There’s still some work to be done however, because in the two to three weeks it takes for blood vessels to grow into the artificial grafts the skin is very vulnerable to infection. A new development in the field is seeking to solve this problem through genetic modification. Here’s a short description from the MIT Technology Review:
Over the past decade, artificial-skin products–made from scaffolds of collagen, the molecule that gives skin its structure and elasticity–have drastically improved burn victims’ chances of survival. Large sheets of the flexible mesh placed over open wounds encourage growth of new dermis, the bottom layer of skin, which does not regenerate under normal circumstances. Surgeons can then transplant small pieces of the patient’s epidermis, the top layer of skin, which grows and spreads over the newly grown dermis.
More recently, scientists have begun seeding the collagen scaffolds with skin cells to help the skin grow: rather than transplanting epidermis onto newly grown skin, scientists grow epidermis cells on the collagen scaffold and then transplant the entire sheet. In an experimental method developed by Steven Boyce of the University of Cincinnati, a patient’s own skin cells are biopsied and then grown in culture. The cells attach to a collagen scaffold, forming a skinlike structure and generating sheets up to 100 times the size of the original biopsy.
One of the remaining major problems with artificial skin is its vulnerability infection. It can take a week or two for blood vessels, which carry the immune system’s infection-fighting machinery, to connect to the newly growing dermis. “Without blood vessels, bacteria can grow and cause infection, and may destroy the graft and open the wound once more,” says Ioannis Yannas, a bioengineer and materials scientist at MIT who helped develop the first artificial-skin product. Currently, doctors must continually wrap wounds with antibacterial bandages.
So Supp and colleagues genetically modified skin cells to produce higher levels of an antibacterial protein. In a paper published in the current issue of the Journal of Burn Care and Research, Supp showed that these skin cells, when grown in a test tube, could kill more of a specific kind of bacteria than standard skin cells.
Read the article here…