Over the years there have been many approaches to creating artificial human skin. With each generation there have been improvements. One of the latest approaches has been developed by a research team at the University of Granada (Spain), which has produced the first artificial skin using a fibrin-agarose biomaterial. Fibrin is a fibrous protein associated with natural blood clotting. It can be synthesized by polymerization (adding chains of molecular protein) in a kind of mesh that has been used to help plug or clot wounds. In this method, fibrin is combined with agar (the gelatinous derivative of red algae), which is the basis for culturing cells that will become the artificial skin.
The first step in development was selecting the cells that would be cultured into skin. These cells were then placed into the fibrin-agar plaques (similar to patches) and grown until a layer of ‘skin’ was created. Then the skin was tested by grafting it onto furless mice. Along the way, to measure the growth of the cells and their acceptance onto a natural living surface, several new immunoflourescent microscopy techniques were developed. That is, the cells were cultured along with fluorescent (typically a phosphorus) content that would make them more visible under the microscope.
The success of the trials with mice led to the first trials with human skin. Skin cells from human volunteers were used along with human fibrin taken from plasma (a blood component). Agarose was added to the mixture and the resulting skin cell-fibrin-agarose combination was grafted on mice, which could be observed in vivo. At the same time, the effects on the cells were analyzed by various techniques of microscopy.
The results were positive: Skin created by this approach was adequately biocompatible. There were no outright rejections, separation at the wound edges, or infection. In fact, the artificial skin underwent the usual cycle of granulation and scarring common to natural skin.
As Professor Jiménez Rodríguez, the principal researcher, put it:
These biomaterials “added resistance, firmness and elasticity to the skin. Definitively, we have created a more stable skin with similar functionality to normal human skin.”
[Source: Cell News]