What’s the largest organ in our body? The answer, our skin, may not surprise you.
Our skin is so important that it makes up almost all of a whole body system. This system, called the integumentary system, keeps our body hydrated, helps keep our body temperature the same, protects us against bacteria, and has sensors so we can feel temperature, pressure, and touch things.
So imagine how surprising it would be if I told you that skin has been produced in a lab at King’s College at London.
How Was It Made?
To find the answer to that, we need to look a lot closer at skin. The skin is made up of three layers. From top to bottom, they are: the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis. The layer that the scientists at London have produced is the epidermis.
As you know, cells are the basic structural and functional unit of all living organisms. In the beginning when life begins (embryo), all cells look the same -- in other words, they are known as undifferentiated cells. These cells develop later into heart cells, liver cells, skin cells, muscle cells, brain cells and more. These undifferentiated cells that later grow into specialized, functional cells are known as stem cells.
You can think of stem cells as blank pieces of paper that the body writes on and changes into whatever is needed by writing on them. The scientists “reprogrammed” these stem cells and changed them into the kind that are found in the epidermis. They then grew these skin cells in a room with very low humidity (the amount of water in the air). This made the skin permeable, meaning that liquids and gases could pass through it, like real skin. This skin is not only realistic, but is also “cheap, easy to scale up, and reproducible”, according to lead researcher Dr. Dusko Ilic, making this a whole new kind of resource that will be treasured by all.
How Can It Be Used?
Researchers can now can study skin conditions, like ichthyosis, a condition that causes dry, flaky skin, or even cure conditions like these after studying them. But the most important use of this skin is that scientists can test skin medicines, creams, and drugs on it without testing them on animals. This skin could even be grafted onto soldiers or people who lose skin in accidents. It almost seems too good to be true!