Researchers are hoping to use skin cells to test new diabetes wound drugs and reduce the need for animal testing.

Researchers at Scotland’s Glasgow Caledonian University are utilizing donated skin cells to help them develop drugs that can aid in the treatment of diabetic wounds, according to the school’s website. The scientists are also hoping that their discovery makes it unnecessary to perform testing on animals.

The scientists managed to reprogram donated human skin cells to grow tissue that mimics that of diabetes wounds. The researchers can now test new diabetic ulcer drugs on the newly grown tissue instead of animals. The three-year study is funded by Animal Free Research UK, a group that advocated for animal replacement research.

Reprogrammed cells

Using skin cells collected from the school’s Skin Research Tissue Bank, the university researchers created a collection of stem cells that can be reprogrammed to resemble other cell types, including brain, blood vessel and nerve cells.

The new cells, donated by patients with Type II diabetes, offer scientists the chance for a better understanding of how the diabetic foot ulcer drugs interact with humans. Typically, genetically modified rats and mice are used to test drugs.

In the next phase of the study, scientists will use the skin cells from diabetic patients to create brain cells to allow them to examine possible links between Type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Over 135 diabetes-related amputations are carried out each week in the UK,” said lead researcher Professor Ann Graham, as quoted by the university website. “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.”

Reducing animal research

In addition to the health benefits of this study, the animal-free aspect is also vital.

“The study allowed researchers to develop new methods of producing human cell-based models to replace experimentation on animals, such as rodents,” Graham added. “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.”

Meanwhile, Animal Free Research explained the reason for supplying funding for the project.

“The Glasgow Caledonian University Skin Tissue Bank currently supports several different projects in diabetic wound healing, vascular problems with diabetes, diabetic retinopathy and cellular ageing. Our funding will help the STB to develop new types of human cell models that can replace animal experimentation.”

Advanced Tissue is the nation’s leader in delivering specialized wound care supplies to patients, delivering to both homes and long-term care facilities.