Are any biomaterials that mimic skin used for testing drugs or cosmetics?
The beginnings of tissue engineering can be traced back to around the mid-1960s, with the first publications on the material properties of skin. This bio-engineering study from Ridge and Wright in 1966 shows one of the first studies to quantify the stress and strain relationship of skin from biopsy samples. Such engineering analysis of skin was novel and was pioneered by notable scientists such as Y.C. Fung, widely considered the father of biomechanics. However, it wasn't until 1993, from the work of Kuronayagi et al. of Japan, that we saw some of the first results from clinical trials utilizing skin substitutes to help trauma patients recover. These skin substitutes were made from cultured fibroblasts and keratinocytes (skin cells) on top of a collagen matrix.
This collagen matrix is an example of a biomaterial, a construct that interacts with a biological system, and the design of such matrixes has been monumental to the advancement of tissue engineering. Since 1998, interest in tissue-engineering human skin substitutes from collagen has increased, leading to many studies on the biomechanical properties of skin and attempts to replicate such properties with collagen and other polymers. In addition, studies have been done on these synthetics to better understand the properties of skin, particularly with regards to drug delivery, and whole chapters in books are dedicated to the topic of skin perturbations.
Thus, scientists are utilizing biomaterials to further study the properties of skin and to test drug delivery systems. It is important to emphasize that drugs have a wide range of physiological effects. Biomaterials are best suited to studying material interactions such as their effect on the physical integrity of the material or their transport through the material.
The body's response to drugs or cosmetics involves an array of processes. One of particular interest is inflammation, which we do not yet fully understand and is difficult to replicate in the lab using only currently available methods, including biomaterials based models.
Even though using specific biomaterials to study drug or cosmetic interactions has not been the focus of research thus far, recent breakthroughs in truly mimicking skin thanks to advancements in nanoengineering, particularly this research from mid-2011, may lead to a wider range of applications for biomaterials in the future.