A lab in Boston is growing human skin to sell to companies for cosmetic testing. The revolutionary move isn’t just an ethical choice – it’s practical too.
“They are a much better simulation of human skin than animals are,” explains XCellR8 Founder Dr. Carol Treasure.
“For skin irritation testing, the cells are isolated from human skin that has been donated by people who have had plastic surgery and they’ve said that they’re quite happy for the tissue to be used for research purposes. So human skins cells are isolated from those skin samples and they’re grown in the laboratory. ”
At less than a fifth of a millimetre thick, this synthetic skin could finally topple the outdated animal testing method. Originally cosmetics companies would test products on the shaved skin of animals, usually rabbits, who have a completely different genetic makeup.
The practice is illegal in Europe and will be banned in Australia in July of this year, so the move is not only practical, but ethical.
“They are a much better simulation of human skin than animals are,” Carol Treasure told Wired.
Creating a layer of skin tissue from a petri dish of cells is a careful process that takes several days of precise measurements to ensure the replication creates a sample that works just like the skin on your arm. A blood substitute soaks the cells from the bottom, and air stirs it from the top.
“What you end up with is an artificial piece of skin in the laboratory where if you cut a cross section through it is almost identical to the real skin on the body,” Treasure told Reuters.
“It even has a skin barrier so you can apply full cosmetic formulations to the surface. And what we do is then incubate those skin models with samples of cosmetic products or ingredients and then we can look at how much damage is being done to the skin over a period of time.”
The finished product is then shipped to cosmetic companies in the U.S and used for testing.
XCellR8 has previously been awarded the Lush Prize – an annual £250,000 (approx. 365,000 USD) prize fund awarding those making significant contributions to removing animals from testing.
They’re now working to convince countries who still employ animal testing, such as China, that their product delivers a viable and scientifically advanced to animal testing.
“Our goal now is to increase the applicability of these tests around the world and to work alongside governments and industry to help them to understand that these tests provide a scientific advancement; that they are actually better at predicting human safety compared with traditional animal tests,” Treasure told Reuters.
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