Study uses donated skin to simulate diabetic wound healing

30 October 2017

Research carried out by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) is creating human stem cells from skin cells to help investigate diabetes and reduce the need for animal testing.

The three-year study, funded by Animal Free Research UK, aimed to develop human cell and tissue-based models to replace animal experiments in studies related to diabetes.

Researchers used human skin cells to create ‘scratch’ wound models to compare the differences between diabetic and non-diabetic cells and to test potential new medicines.

By using human tissue to replace animal experimentation, researchers found they could create models of human skin to be used to test drugs in development, such as those that may help in the treatment of diabetic ulcers.

Researchers were also able to reprogram human skin cells to generate stem cells. Reprogrammed stem cells can transform into many different types of cells, such as brain cells, nerve cells and blood vessel cells, needed in diabetes research.

GCU’s Skin Research Tissue Bank is a collection of human tissue and cells donated by patients with conditions such as type 2 diabetes and critical limb ischaemia.

Glasgow Caledonian University’s Professor Ann Graham, the lead researcher on the study, said: “Over 135 diabetes-related amputations are carried out each week in the UK. We know that this is a growing problem and we hope that our work can inform research and aid others who require access to human material for medical research.”

“The study allowed researchers to develop new methods of producing human cell-based models to replace experimentation on animals, such as rodents. In traditional diabetes research, strains of genetically modified mice and rats are bred specifically for diabetes research because they are thought to mimic diabetes in humans. Human tissue has many advantages over using tissue from animals as it provides a better understanding of how drugs interact with human cells.”

“We are also planning to reprogram cells from diabetic donors and differentiate them to brain cells, allowing us to examine links between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Ongoing projects are investigating conditions affecting the skin such as diabetic wound healing and psoriasis. Thanks to the support of Animal Free Research UK, the GCU Skin Research Tissue Bank is advancing and encouraging human cell-based, animal-free research into a variety of medical conditions.”

The reprogramming of skin cells to stem cells places GCU among an elite group of universities in the UK, alongside Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Cardiff and UCL.

Emma Wrafter, Co-CEO of Animal Free Research UK said: “This is a really exciting piece of research that the team at Glasgow Caledonian University are carrying out and has far reaching implications for the 4 million people who live with diabetes every day. We are incredibly proud to be funding innovative, animal free and human relevant research. By using human cells to facilitate high calibre diabetes research, this work really focuses on the best outcomes for human care and helps to replace animals being used in medical research.”