German scientists growing skin from baby foreskins


No, this is not an ill-conceived sequel to an Ira Levin novel. Scientists at a laboratory in Germany have begun growing human skin from the cells of infant foreskins.

According to the German Herald, the "medical breakthrough" is being used to test cosmetics and other consumer products and could someday replace all animal testing. The so-called Skin Factory, at the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart, takes foreskin cells donated to the project and uses them to grow the skin, according to spokesman Andreas Traube. More from the Herald:

Scientists extract a single layer of cells from each foreskin and then grow on layers of collagen and connective tissue in the Skin Factory, a sealed growing environment just seven meters, by thee meters, and three meters high and kept at a constant temperature of 37 degrees centigrade.

The scientists use the Skin Factory machine--some 22 feet long, 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide--to grow the new skin. Parents provide the scientists with permission before they are allowed to use the donated foreskins.

Once the cells are multiplied inside the machine, researchers then inject them into a gel that causes them to grow into a sheet that simulates the epidermis. The layers are then fused together, creating a replica of natural human skin.

Traube said the foreskin is taken from children aged 1-4, because the younger tissue has better research applications. "The older the skin is, the worse it performs," he said. According to the report, the cells taken from a single foreskin can produce test skin samples in six weeks. The success of the research has led the Skin Factory to consider expanding its efforts to commercial projects.

"It's logical that we'd want to take the operation to a bigger scale," Traube said. "In the future, there are all sort of possible applications for the Skin Factory like cancer research, pigmentation diseases, and allergic reactions."

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