Human epidermis was grown from stem cells

In laboratories of King’s College in London it was possible to grow epidermis with the use of stem cells. The epidermis is structurally and functionally similar to native one in humans. It has protective functions and permeability, thus it can be a natural barrier. The research was published in Stem Cell Reports in April 2014.

Human epidermis is made of keratinizing stratified squamous epithelium and its main grounding consists of layered epithelial cells (keratinocytes). It also consists of melanocytes, receptors and dendritic cells. Kerationocytes synthesize proteoglycans, collagen IV, proteins taking part in keratinisation and also glycolipid determining epidermal impermeability to water. They also take part in regulation of cellular and hormonal response by presenting antigens to T cells and by secreting cytokines. Disorders in epithelial cells differentiation, keratinisation or metabolism of lipids in epidermis lead to malfunction of epidermal barrier permeability and contribute to numerous diseases such as psoriasis, ichthyosis or atopic dermatitis.

Obtaining functional epidermis in laboratory conditions was very difficult until now. In numerous experiments epidermis was grown from cells, however, despite similar microscopic structure the scientists could not be proud of epidermis which would have anabolic activity and thus be able to serve as protective barrier in human organism.

In order to grow healthy keratinocytes a team led by doctor Anastasia Petrova used pluripotential stem cells of genetic material characterized by the scientists and innumerable ability to divide. They used 4-step protocol which enabled transformation of stem cells into identical to natural keratinocytes.
Epidermal cells purified on the basis of adhesion to collagen were added to growth in one of the stages. Then, cells were grown in environment of appropriate humidity and in conditions similar to those in human organism what influenced possibility of proteins synthesis by keratinocytes. Then, the content of grown epidermis was examined with the use of electrical resistance which was correct. Obtained tissue was impermeable to water and maintained proper calcium gradient. According to the scientists examined acidity was also proper and protective barrier was equivalent to native one.

Creation of identical to natural protective barrier which is permeable to many substances and retain water is an undoubted success of the scientists. Epidermis grown in such way seems to be an ideal tool to use in aesthetic medicine and also in pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry. Possibility of easy multiplication and relatively low cost of epidermis growth may contribute to cessation of testing cosmetics on animals and in the future it may become a chance for severely burnt patient waiting for transplantation. Understanding molecular processes and defining the mechanism of their dysfunctions may influence treatment of skin diseases such as atopic dermatitis or ichthyosis.

Written by: Jerzy Bednarski, Anna Kozioł, Julia Rudnicka

1. Petrova et al., 3D In Vitro Model of a Functional Epidermal Permeability Barrier from Human Embryonic Stem Cells and Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, Stem Cell Reports (2014),
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permeability barrier. Curr. Opin. Cell Biol. 15, 776–782.
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skin disorders. J. Clin. Invest. 116, 1150–1158.

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