Skin cells genetically engineered to be resistant to bacteria could reduce infections and improve chances of survival among burn victims. A patient’s skin cells, genetically modified and grown in a test tube, could provide the next generation of artificial skin. As a first step in creating such replacement skin, scientists in Cincinnati have engineered bacteria-resistant skin cells in the lab and are now testing them in animals. Ultimately, they hope to produce a type of artificial skin that can sweat, tan, and fight off infection.
Supp cautions that the engineered cells are still a long way from clinical use. The true test of the bacteria-fighting properties will come in the complex environment of a real wound, which is littered with many different types of bacteria. The researchers are now planning experiments in animal models.
Ideally, Supp wants to create even better cultured skin, with cells that can grow the molecular structures required to produce sweat, hair, and pigment. “If we can start with two cell types and add one or two genes at a time and get these structures to develop, that would be very exciting,” she says.