JAN 16, 2018 1:47 AM PST

Skin Organoids Sprout Hair

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Organoids are three-dimensional models of human organs that are changing disease research. While they do not currently mirror the complexity of most organs, scientists are improving them. Now, scientists at the Indiana University School of Medicine have grown skin organoids that support hair follicle growth. This work, published in Cell Reports, will likely aid in the study of serious skin diseases; it was led by Karl Koehler, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at IU School of Medicine, and postdoctoral fellow Jiyoon Lee.

“The skin is a complex organ that has been difficult to fully recreate and maintain in culture for research purposes,” noted Koehler. “Our study shows how to encourage hair development from lab-grown mouse skin, which has been particularly troublesome for researchers to recreate in culture." 

This work builds on previous research by this team that engineered inner ear cells from stem cells. Stem cells are the basis for organoids, and they are treated to develop as the desired structures. While working on the inner ear, the scientists found that skin also formed as they were coaxing the stem cells to become the tissue of the inner ear. 

“In the developing embryo, the inner ear comes from the same layer of cells as the top layer of the skin, [the epidermis], so it was no surprise that skin and inner ear tissue formed in tandem,” said Koehler. “We were surprised to find that the bottom layer of the skin [the dermis] also develops.”

The investigators found that cells of the epidermis and dermis formed clusters or skin organoids. They created layers opposite the ones we carry, with the top layer facing down, to the interior. The scientists continued to observe the structures as they grew.

Lee et al. show that hair follicles can be generated from mouse pluripotent stem cells in a 3-D cell culture system. The hair follicles (red) grow radially out of spherical skin organoids and contain follicle-initiating dermal papilla cells (green cells) and hair shafts (cyan). / Credit: Artwork by Jiyoon Lee and Karl Koehler.

“After about 20 days, we were amazed to see that skin organoids sprouted hair follicles,” Koehler said. “The roots of the follicles protrude from the skin organoids in all directions.”

The researchers dug deeper, and checked the protein expression in the cells and found that indeed, it was very similar to the pattern of expression seen in developing skin.

“In addition to the major epidermal and dermal cell types we also found specialized cell types, such as melanocytes [pigment cells], Merkel cells [touch sensing cells], adipocytes [fat cells], sebaceous gland cells, and hair follicle stem cells in organoids,” Koehler said. “This is fascinating because it shows that if we derive the basic building blocks of skin together in culture, then these diverse cell types will self-assemble on their own.” 

The investigators expect that this research will lead to more breakthroughs. “My hope is that by improving skin-in-a-dish models we can greatly diminish the sacrifice of experimental animals and ultimately help patients with skin-related issues live a better life,” Dr. Lee said.

There are hurdles that remain, of course. “The shape of skin organoids is another problem that needs to be addressed in the future,” Koehler noted. “Because the organoids are inside-out compared to normal skin, the layers of dead cells and hairs cannot be shed as they are normally, so we need to find a way to flip the structure of skin organoids.”

Jiyoon Lee, PhD, and Karl Koehler, PhD. / Credit: Indiana University School of Medicine

Sources: Indiana University, Cell Reports

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
MAR 17, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAR 17, 2020
In Search of the Original Enzyme
It has been suggested that life arose from molecules that gradually came together in the right ways to form simple cells ...
MAR 27, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
MAR 27, 2020
Expanding the Genomic Regions That Can Be Targeted With CRISPR
CRISPR gene-editing technology has sparked a revolution in biomedical research and is poised to have far-reaching applic ...
APR 02, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
APR 02, 2020
How Particle Physicists can Lend a Hand to the Search for SARS-CoV-02 Cure, Explained
With vaccines at least one year away and no proven treatment for infection, the world has witnessed the loss of  20 ...
MAY 05, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAY 05, 2020
Preprint Suggests Sars-CoV-2 Mutation Makes it More Transmissable
Samples obtained from patients from all over the world have been used to sequence the genomes of the viral strains infec ...
MAY 20, 2020
Cardiology
MAY 20, 2020
Metabolite Responsible for Poor Metabolic Response to Exercise Identified
For some, working out just doesn’t pay off. A recent study published in Cardiovascular Research by the H ...
MAY 25, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAY 25, 2020
Rewrite the Books: Retinoic Acid Does Not Trigger Meiosis
Researchers are challenging what we thought we knew about the mechanism of sexual reproduction.
Loading Comments...