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Artificial fat aids skin replacement.

Mention the term "artificial fat" and people think of the substitutes in ice cream and other foods marketed to a diet-conscious nation obsessed with shedding weight. That is not the kind of artificial fat being developed by Nancy Parenteau, director of cell biology research at Organogenesis, Inc., a biotechnology company located in Canton, Mass., and head of their Skin Equivalent Program, which has pioneered efforts to develop replacements for natural tissues in the body. "A lot of people may not think it's a good idea, but we want to put fat back on the body. It's artificial fat tissue, a soft-tissue replacement that could be used in cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, treating severe burns, and other conditions."

Perhaps the best known of these is Graftskin, one of several cultured skin replacements being developed and tested. Entire sheets of cultured skin "equivalents" can be grown - typically from cells obtained from human foreskins taken from circumcisions. Graftskin is in clinical trials at a number of medical centers for use in speeding healing of skin ulcers in patients with circulatory problems. Other uses for the cultured skin range from a permanent skin replacement in victims of severe burns to in vitro testing of drugs or cosmetics. The engineering technology for skin equivalents has reached the point where cells obtained from one foreskin can be grown to form several hundred square meters of skin equivalent for grafting.

Fat transplants can be used to fill voids in tissue left after certain kinds of surgery. The patient usually serves as donor, with tissue removed from a normal part of the body. Adipose tissue has a relatively simple structure, with fat cells imbedded in a matrix of collagen. The big challenge probably will come in growing tissue capable of supporting rapid in-growth of blood vessels. A network of blood vessels must grow rapidly from normal tissue in the body into the new adipose tissue to provide life-sustaining oxygen and nutrients.
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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