Body's Largest Organ Artificially Produced

Author:  Hoi See Tsao
Institution:  Wellesley College
Date:  July 2007

Intercytex, a UK-based company, has developed a prototype artificial skin that can be used to heal wounds. The research team, led by Dr. Paul Kemp, published their findings in the journal Regenerative Medicine and hope that their finding can provide an alternative treatment to skin grafts that is better at integrating with wounds.

The new product, ICX-SKN, is created from a matrix of fibrin, a blood clotting protein that is found in healing wounds, and fibroblast cells, which are normally found in human skin, where they help synthesize new tissue. Similar to the body's normal method of skin regeneration, the fibroblast cells in ICX-SKN release collagen that stabilizes the matrix. Once stabilized, the artificial skin is implanted into the desired area.

Because the matrix is stabilized, ICX-SKN is more resistant to changes that occur during healing, allowing it to integrate well with the wound. The synthesis of collagen directly by the fibroblast cells also mirrors the natural healing process closely.

"This particular product behaves like the patients' own skin," explained Ken Dunn, a consultant surgeon at the burns unit at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester who worked with the researchers. "It seems to excite much less reaction than the other materials we are using at the moment."

To test the effectiveness of ICX-SKN, researchers cut an oval section of skin from the arms of six volunteers and replaced it with their new artificial skin. The wounds healed with relatively little scarring and no complications after 28 days.

"I was very surprised at how quickly the wounds healed," Kemp said. "If this continues in larger trials, then it could revolutionize the way [that] wounds and burns are treated in the future."

Although the artificial skin has only been tried on a small, surgically-created wound in healthy patients and it may be difficult to reproduce such positive test results on patients with real burns, ICX-SKN still holds potential compared with existing methods. Skin grafts are currently the most effective solution to serious burns or wounds and involve removing skin from an undamaged part of the patient's body and grafting it onto the injured area. The drawback of this method is that skin grafts can fail to integrate fully with the tissue in and around the wound.

"Future studies are needed to establish whether this system is substantially better then those already on the market," said Dr. Phil Stephens, a cell biologist at Cardiff University. "But this skin replacement system has the potential to dramatically reduce scarring and help heal chronic wounds in aged patients to give them a better quality of life."

Written by Hoi See Tsao