FEB 08, 2023 10:00 AM PST

Artificial skin helps reveal details about how skin cancer develops

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. In fact, it’s estimated that each year, over four million Americans receive treatment for either basal or squamous cell skin cancers. As with other cancers, early detection and treatment can help improve the odds of successfully beating these cancers.

However, there are still a lot of questions researchers have about skin cancer, such as the underlying mechanisms that cause healthy cells to become cancerous. While several studies have been conducted that shed some light, it can be hard to study what drives skin cancer ex vivo.

A team of researchers at the University of Copenhagen designed an artificial skin that allowed them to better understand the complex mechanisms behind skin cancer, which could improve how clinicians treat and prevent skin cancer in the future. Researchers describe the results of a study using the artificial skin in a recent article in Science Signaling.

Specifically, researchers studied what’s actually happening when a healthy cell becomes cancerous. The team focused specifically on the TGF beta pathway, a cell communication mechanism that helps cells interact with their surroundings and controls vital functions, such as cell growth. Skin cancer often results when pathways like TGF beta become damage, allowing cells to invade different layers of skin, which they do not do under normal circumstances. This process is known as invasive growth.

The artificial skin was designed using genetically-modified human cells. Then, the skin cells are grown on collagen, which allows the cells to grow in layers that imitate real human skin. Because the artificial skin model is designed with genetically-modified cells, researchers are able to initiate genetic changes with relative ease, which allows them to study how different genetic changes affect cell growth and potentially contribute to cancer. Artificial human skin also skips a step that typical studies must address: moving findings from animal trials to human trials, a process that does not always neatly transfer.

While researchers can also use the skin model to test various drugs, researchers are limited to looking at the effects of the drug on just the skin, not the entire human body.  

Sources: Science Daily; CDC; Science Signaling

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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