Lab-Made Skin Cells Will Aid Transplantation, Cancer, Drug Discovery Research, Say Penn Scientists


October 27, 2011

Penn Medicine News Release

The pigmented cells called melanocytes aren't just for making freckles and tans. Melanocytes absorb ultraviolet light, protecting the skin from the harmful effects of the sun. They also are the cells that go haywire in melanoma, as well as in more common conditions as vitiligo and albinism.

Naturally, researchers would love to study melanocytes in the laboratory. There's just one problem -- melanocytes from adult skin don't grow very well in the lab. Now, researchers have found a way to create melanocytes from mouse tail cells using embryonic stem cell-like intermediates called inducible pluripotent (iPS) cells.

Xiaowei Xu, MD, PhD, associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, is senior author on the study, which appears online in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, ahead of the December print issue. Xu and his team converted mouse tail-tip fibroblasts into iPS cells using four genes, which were first described by Shinya Yamanaka in 2006, producing pluripotent cells similar to embryonic stem cells, but without the concomitant ethical issues.

According to Xu, these lab-made melanocytes promise benefits in areas from tissue transplantation to drug discovery. "This method really has lots of clinical implications," says Xu. "We are not quite there yet, but this is an early step." Read More