Scientists have created a genetically engineered skin substitute designed to accelerate wound healing, according to a study published in this week's Journal of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB). The new artificial tissue is believed to be unique in that it expresses a protein known as keratinocyte growth factor, which appears to promote skin cell proliferation.

Another approach to replacing skin involves substitutes made from collagen gels, but these have a consistency similar to that of gelatin, which poses certain problems. "What's significant about our substitute is that it contains the basement membranethe matrix molecules that the cells of the epidermis like to sit onthat retains the natural composition and topography of skin," says team member Stelios Andreadis of the State University of New York at Buffalo. Unlike collagen gels, this new type of artificial skin has high mechanical stability and is pliable. "This is very important for burn patients who have lost a substantial fraction of their total body surface area and who suffer from excessive dehydration and bacterial infection," Andreadis explains. "Because they are very much like real skin, the engineered cell-based skin equivalents can provide these functions."

So far the team has only studied their skin substitute in vitro. But they hope to investigate the therapeutic effect of their product in animals in the future.