Scientists Find a Way to Regenerate Adult Skin Just Like a Baby's

The recent discovery minimizes scarring and enables goosebumps.
Fabienne Lang
Image of regenerating adult skinWashington State University

Regenerating skin on an adult mammal, like you as a human, isn't something that's been possible. That's why scientists have been looking to wearables and other contraptions to do the job for us. 

For instance, this bioprinter that prints skin to help heal wounds, or this 3D-printed brick that assists bone and soft tissue repair

But scientists have also been trying to look inwards, to what our own natural bodies can offer. Now a team of scientists from Washington State University (WSU) has managed to regenerate adult skin, to operate just like a newborn's. 

The discovery may have positive implications for better and faster skin wound treatment, as well as minimizing the aging process. 

The study was published in the journal eLife in late September.


The discovery

The researchers discovered a sort of molecular switch in the skin of baby mice that's in charge of creating hair follicles during the mice's first week on Earth. Typically, once the skin becomes fully formed, meaning when mice have reached adulthood, this molecular switch turns off. The same happens with humans.

The team essentially switched the molecule back on in adult mice and found that it enabled their skin wounds to heal without scarring, with fur, and could create goosebumps. The latter is no longer possible on adult scarred skin. 

Ryan Driskellan assistant professor in WSU’s School of Molecular Biosciences and part of the team, first got the idea of looking at newborn skin and its capacity to self-repair after reading work on life-saving in utero surgeries—which left the babies without any scars once they were born. 

This new research by Driskell and his team highlights the possibility of looking at the early stages of mammal life in order to regenerate our own skin. 

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As Driskell mentioned, "We can still look to other organisms for inspiration, but we can also learn about regeneration by looking at ourselves."

The team used RNA sequencing to compare the genes and cells in newborn and adult skin. In doing so, the team discovered a transcription factor-proteins that links DNA and determines whether genes are switched on or off. This factor is called Lef1, and is linked to papillary fibroblasts, which are cells still in their developmental stages, located in a layer of skin just beneath the surface skin. This lower layer is what provides skin with tension and a youthful-looking appearance. 

By activating Lef1 in the adult mice, the team found that scarring was reduced and skin regeneration possible, as well as regrowing hair follicles that enable goosebumps. 

The team stresses that a lot more work on the subject needs to conduct before this can be trialed on human skin. But, if all continues to go to plan, this could be an incredibly useful discovery for adult humans.