Scientists at the University of Cincinnati and Tokyo Medical University have made an important discovery toward manipulating skin tone in grafting. In the research study, published in the September issue of the FASEB Journal, the researchers report how to manipulate skin tone using cells previously thought to play no significant role in this function.

“Most immediately, this study should lead to bioengineered skin grafts that more closely resemble the natural tone and color of recipients, which may help reduce the appearance of scarring,” says Gerald Weissmann, MD, editor-in-chief of the FASEB Journal. “Down the road, however, this study opens doors to new types of cosmetics based on our understanding of how and why ‘skin deep’ differences in appearance evolved over millions of years.”

In the article, researchers describe how cells responsible for pigmentation, called melanocytes, can be controlled by commonly occurring skin cells, called keratinocytes, which produce no pigment on their own. Working with bioengineered skin, which is used for some types of skin grafts, the researchers juggled various mixtures of keratinocytes from patients with different skin tones. In turn, the keratinocytes produced chemical signals to “tell” melanocytes to produce more or less pigment (melanin), as well as how to distribute that pigment. The researchers found that using keratinocytes from light-skinned individuals had a lightening effect on the bioengineered skin graft material, and that keratinocytes from dark-skinned individuals had a darkening effect.

According to Raymond Boissy, PhD, the study’s senior researcher, this discovery can “help the quality of life for people with pigment diseases such as vitiligo, melasma, and age spots by making their skin more healthy-looking.”

[www.medicalnewstoday.com, August 26, 2007]