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Sole Cells to Sturdy Stump Skin

Author: Thrive Staff Writer
Bioengineers Dr. Claire Higgins and Dr. Colin Boyle, from London’s (U.K.) Imperial College, want to use the thick, tough skin from the sole of the foot as a stencil for sturdier stump skin.
They are lead authors of a new paper, published in Science Advances, that looks at what makes sole skin so hardy.

The bottom of the foot is covered in what’s known as plantar skin. This skin is unique to the soles of our feet, and is particularly thick and padded, which helps it to stay intact when it bears our weight and rubs against shoes. Skin on our arms and legs however, is not designed to bear weight, or to have hard materials rubbing against it. “We found ourselves asking why the skin underfoot doesn’t break down when we move around or wear shoes, and whether we can isolate that property and somehow incorporate it into stump skin,” explained Dr. Higgins.

“We now know that stump skin needs thicker collagen fibres, thicker bundles of collagen, and different types of keratin to behave as sole skin does,” says Higgins. “So now we need to work out how to do this!” One potential avenue considers incorporating genetic material into stump skin to help it grow thicker, and another, using sole skin-inspired skin grafts. Be it socket science or skin study, Higgins and Boyle’s work, while very unique, joins other research contributing to improving the interface between amputee and technology.

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