Scientific Foundations

Skin is the largest organ in the body. It is made up of two layers: the dermis and the epidermis. The dermis is the bottom layer. It contains blood vessels, nerve cells, and sweat glands. On top of the dermis is the epidermis, the part of the skin that can be seen. The epidermis contains cells that produce keratin, a substance that makes skin strong. The epidermis also constantly makes new skin cells. The old cells rise to the surface, where they turn into dead skin and flake off.

Although skin is able to regrow when it is damaged, it cannot regrow when both the dermis and epidermis have been destroyed. This sometimes happens when someone is badly burned, or has a disease that prevents their wounds from healing.

Skin substitutes

How artificial skin helps burns heal

Undamaged epidermis

Outer membrane

Undamaged dermis-

Artificial skin

Underlying tissue i

Blood vessels forming

Severely burned area with artificial skin in place

One week after application

Outer membrane removed

Blood flow returns

L if

Skin graft mesh

Two weeks or more after application

One to two months after application

Synthetic skin works by protecting the underlying tissues while providing a structure that allows regrowth of the skin. Illustration by GGS Inc.

In the 1980s, scientists Robert Langer cells from the patient or a donor could be and Joseph Vacanti discovered that they put on the scaffold. The cells would grow could grow human skin in a lab. Their dis- and divide, forming a new organ. The idea covery not only enabled scientists to create was to implant the organ in the patient's skin substitutes, but it also paved the way body and have the scaffold dissolve away. for the creation of entire organs. The scaf- The challenge is to get blood vessels to fold they discovered could be shaped like regrow so that the organ can integrate natan organ, for example a liver. Then organ urally into the patient's body.

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