Jon Vogel and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, cultured the principal cells of skin — fibroblasts and keratinocytes – and introduced in them a gene for atrial natriuretic peptide that naturally occurs in heart cells and reduces blood pressure by dilating blood vessels and lowering blood volume.
Mixing the cells in a gel matrix, the cells formed layers that imitate those found in human skin.
The researchers attached the grafts to the backs of mice, which within weeks accepted the grafts as native skin. ANP was found in the mice’s bloodstreams, and their blood pressure was found to be lower, even when placed on a diet high in salt.
The bioengineered skin grafts could help treat high blood pressure, and are a new approach to delivering gene therapies for other systemic genetic diseases such as hypertension and cystic fibrosis.
Human trials remain years away. First, larger mammals will be tested, including pigs, which have skin similar to that of a human, reports the New Scientist. The team is also working on ways to control the dose of gene therapy — important for, say, a diabetic who needs to fine-tune blood sugar levels.
Their findings were published in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.