Tissue-engineered skin substitutes (TESs) are used as a treatment for severe burn injuries. Their production requires culturing both keratinocytes and fibroblasts. The methods to grow these cells have evolved over the years, but bovine serum is still commonly used in the culture medium. Because of the drawbacks associated with the use of serum, it would be advantageous to use serum-free media for the production of TESs. In a previous study, we developed a serum-free medium (Surge SFM) for the culture of keratinocytes. Herein, we tested the use of this medium, together with a commercially available serum-free medium for fibroblasts (Prime XV), to produce serum-free TESs. Our results show that serum-free TESs are macroscopically and histologically similar to skin substitutes produced with conventional serum-containing media. TESs produced with either culture media expressed keratin 14, Ki-67, transglutaminase 1, filaggrin, type I and IV collagen, and fibronectin comparably. Mechanical properties, such as contraction and tensile strength, were comparable between TESs cultured with and without serum. Serum-free TESs were also successfully grafted onto athymic mice for a six-month period. In conclusion, Surge SFM and Prime XV serum-free media could be used to produce high quality clinical-grade skin substitutes.
Keywords: cell culture; defined medium; skin; stem cells; tissue engineering.