A new development in the production of artificial skins comes from scientists at the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research (BDR). The researchers, in collaboration with the ROHTO Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., have created a human skin equivalent (HSE) that mimics the tensional balance of natural skin. Their findings have been published in Nature.
Artificial skins are an emerging field of bioengineering because of the wide range of applications that HSEs have. HSEs can be applied as solutions to skin problems from diseases or aging, reduce the need for animal testing, and offer an alternative to grafting for burn patients.
The innovation by BDR to mimic the traction-force balance of natural human skin in the lateral direction is exciting because it allows for more control over structural and physiological function. This balance is known as tensional homeostasis and occurs in human skin all the time without us realizing it.
Tensional homeostasis is what allows the cells near the outer layer of our skin to keep a stable and steady tension through collagen fibers, making our skin both strong and flexible. Because of tensional homeostasis, when our skin is cut, it contracts in the same direction in which collagen fibers, texture, and the hairline are aligned. But getting HSEs to do that is trickier than it may seem.
BDR scientist Takashi Tsuji led the research group that looked at a new way of building an HSE that would not shrink during construction. In their model, they tweaked the degree of contraction of an artificial skin that was fitted between a cultured vessel in order to mimic the tensional homeostasis of natural skin. Doing so kept the model skin from shrinking and facilitated the healing and regeneration of the HSE, meaning it could be more responsive to some drugs.
The researchers believe the future of HSEs is upon us. "HSEs have crucial roles for scientific evidence-based skin health care and disease research that can help us reduce research in animals," Tsuji says. "Our study will open a novel field of animal-experiment replacement based on scientific evidence in the fields of healthcare and drug discovery. We believe that our HSE model will greatly contribute to the technological developments of next-generation skincare, and improve the quality of life."