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German 'Skin Factory' Uses Foreskin From Babies To Grow Human Skin Samples

German Human Skin Factory

First Posted: 12/20/11 10:57 PM ET Updated: 12/20/11 10:57 PM ET

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart recently created the "Skin Factory," an advanced piece of lab equipment designed to use foreskin taken from babies to grow patches of human skin that can be used in the place of animals to test products, the German Herald reported.

According to a spokesman for the Institute, the groundbreaking equipment may be able to eliminate animal testing altogether and, if developed on a larger scale, could be useful in developing treatments for cancer, pigmentation diseases, and certain skin allergies.

So how does the miracle machine work? First, it's heated to roughly 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of the human body, according to the German news outlet The Local. Next, robotic hands meticulously extract cells from foreskins donated to the project, all samples of which must come from boys age four-and-under.

"The older skin is, the worse the cells function," Andreas Traube, an engineer at the institute.

Scientists then take the cells extracted from the foreskin (one sample can provide up to 10 million cells) and incubate them inside tubes, where they multiply hundreds of times. The cells are then mixed with collagen and connective tissue to create skin about 5 millimeters thick. All in all, Traube explained, the process takes about six weeks -- about the same amount of time it takes skin to grow naturally.

"We can't use the machine to speed up the process; biology needs time to take its course," Traube told the The Local.

At least one organization within Germany has already expressed measured approval for the machine.

"I think the idea is a good one. I believe cells from artificially cultivated skin are indeed comparable with real skin," Rolf Homke, spokesman for the German Association of Research-based Pharmaceutical Companies, told The Local. "I do think it might take a few years to get up and running though. There are complicated international safety standards, these procedures can't just be changed overnight."

As such, European authorities have yet to authorize the Skin Factory for use in product testing. In the meantime, scientists are continuing to develop the machine and are producing skin at a rate of 5,000 samples per month.

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Filed by Jocelyn Richard  |