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Scientists Generate Skin-like Replacement Tissue

September 16, 2009

Epithelial-like coloniesAt birth, the sky is the limit for every child.  As new parents like to ponder, they just might be holding the next president of the United States.  The next Maya Angelou.  Or the next Peyton Manning.  But, as time passes, every child makes choices about the road ahead, narrowing the options available to them and ultimately committing to pursue just one chosen profession or lot in life.  The same is true with embryonic stem cells, or hESCs.  When formed, these cells are “pluripotent,” and the sky is the limit.  But they soon commit to joining one of three developmental germ layers – ectoderm, endoderm, or mesoderm - and, from there, ultimately lock into just one true biological calling, or cell type, i.e., a skin cell.

For scientists interested in engineering replacement tissues in the laboratory, a major research challenge is to learn how to selectively control which path pluripotent hESCs choose to travel.  It would allow them to generate on demand any cell type, and these cells then could be combined to mimic the needed complexity to fabricate human three-dimensional, multi-layered tissues.  These fabricated tissues mimic the required form and function of their natural counterparts and, if needed, can replace them in our bodies.

Epithelial-like colonies As published online last July in the journal Tissue Engineering: Part A, a team of NIDCR grantees has taken a major step forward on all three research fronts.  The team has established for the first time that (a) a single source of hESCs can be selectively coaxed to generate multiple cell types, and (b) they can interact within a three-dimensional tissue model to organize into a complex, multilayer tissue.  In this case, the group produced skin-like structures that resemble the soft mucosal tissues that line the inside of the mouth.   These tissue surrogates potentially could be used one day to replace the badly damaged mucosa in people with oral cancer, chronic periodontitis, and other serious oral conditions.  More immediately, these investigational structures will allow the researchers to begin to predict how stable and safe hESC-derived tissues will be after transplantation into the mouth or possibly elsewhere in the body. 

  • Hewitt KJ, Shamis Y, Carlson MW, Aberdam E, Aberdam D, and Garlick JA, “Three-Dimensional Epithelial Tissues Generated from Human Embryonic Stem Cells,” Tissue Engineering:  Part A: 15: Published online on July 21, 2009. 



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This page last updated: February 26, 2014