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Growing Skin, in the Lab

Four fingers, wrinkled from water immersion

Compared to other organs, skin may seem kind of simple and boring. But it's actually pretty complex. After all, skin has multiple layers and contains working hair follicles and sweat glands. Which is why, until recently, there have been relatively few options for burn victims and others who need to replace lost skin. Culturing and grafting techniques can produce skin‑like tissue, but without the ability to grow hair and sweat glands.

Recently, however, scientists in Japan have developed a technique to grow mouse skin in the lab that has multiple layers and sebaceous glands. When implanted into a mouse, the skin grew and sprouted hair.

The scientists developed the technique by using cells from a mouse's gums, and bathing them in chemicals to turn them into stem cells, which can be encouraged to become any type of cell in the body. As the cells began to divide, the researchers engineered them to form various layers and skin structures.

The scientists estimate that it could take as long as ten years to test the technique on humans. But if the procedure continues to develop and improve, it could one day lead to scientists being able to grow skin that not only sweats and grows hair, but also helps regulate heat, senses touch, and does everything else that natural skin does.

The procedure may also eventually contribute to the ability to grow other fully functional organs in the lab.

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