Biomedical science has made major advances in understanding how cells grow into functioning tissue and the signalling mechanisms used to achieve this are slowly being dissected. Tissue engineering is the application of that knowledge to the building or repairing of organs, including skin, the largest organ in the body. Generally, engineered tissue is a combination of living cells and a supporting matrix. Besides serving as burn coverings, engineered skin substitutes can help patients with diabetic foot ulcers. Today, most of these ulcers are treated with an approach that includes antibiotics, glucose control, special shoes and frequent cleaning and bandaging. The results of such treatments are often disappointing and ineffectual, and scarring remains a major problem, mechanically, cosmetically and psychologically. Within our group we are attempting to address this by investigating novel approaches to skin tissue engineering. We are identifying novel therapeutic manipulations to improve the degree of integration between a tissue engineered dermal construct and the host by both molecular manipulation of growth factors but also by understanding and harnessing mechanisms of regenerative biology. For the purpose of this summary, we will concentrate primarily on the latter of these two approaches in that we have identified a novel mouse mutant that completely and perfectly regenerates skin and cartilaginous components following ear injury. This experimental animal will allow us to characterize not only novel genes involved in the regeneration process but also to utilize cells from such animals in artificial skin equivalents to assess their behaviour compared with normal cells. This approach should allow us to create a tissue-engineered substitute, which more closely resembles the normal regional microanatomy and physiology of the skin, allowing better integration to the host with minimal or no scarring.
- tissue engineering
- wound healing