Sulev Kõks, MD, PhD, Professor, Department of Pathophysiology, Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine, University of Tartu, Estonia
Külli Kingo, MD, PhD, Professor, Department of Dermatology, University of Tartu, Estonia
Viljar Jaks, MD, PhD, Senior Researcher, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Tartu, Estonia
Olavi Vasar, MD, FESPS Consultant, Plastic and vascular surgeon Hospital of Reconstructive Surgery, Tallinn, Estonia
Esko Kankuri, MD, PhD, Docent, Principal Investigator, Head of Laboratory, Faculty of Medicine, Pharmacology, University of Helsinki, Finland
In skin tissue the predominant cell types are keratinocytes, melanocytes and fibroblasts. All these cells have specific roles to play: keratinocytes form a dense multilayer structure that acts as the primary defense mechanism of the organism against environmental influences, including pathogens; melanocytes are responsible for pigment synthesis; and fibroblasts are the main producers of extracellular proteins. However, skin cells have a plethora of functions and many of these are still unknown or require additional studies.
For the cells to perform their specific functions, a net-like support structure called extracellular matrix, typical for tissues, is needed. Guaranteeing the right functioning of cells is very important in the development of artificial tissues. The need for skin transplants is steadily increasing all over the world. It is hoped that skin tissues produced by tissue engineering may help in the treatment of extensive burns, chronic ulcers and both congenital and acquired skin defects.
The general aim of this study was to develop a structural material with chemical and physical properties characteristic to natural skin that would mimic physiological extracellular matrix as exactly as possible. To determine the possible functions of the cells, we performed a gene expression analysis at the whole transcriptome level. After that we developed biocompatible materials and evaluated the biological properties – survival, proliferation and morphology – of the skin cells grown on these materials.
In conclusion, the properties of the extracellular environment have major impact on the growth and morphology of the cells. For a skin analogue to have a functionality very similar to physiological skin, not only its chemical properties, but also its structurality and mechanical properties should mimic those of natural tissue.