Developing an Innervated Skin Model

Chronic pain and itch are symptoms of skin-nerve interface problems that lead patients to seek medical treatment. Innervated skin models provide a means to study the mechanisms underlying the neuro-cutaneous disorders and are preferable to in vivo animal studies and traditional in vitro monolayer studies for many applications including the measurement of somatosensory transduction. Our laboratory is developing a new innervated skin model in collaboration with Steve Davidson, PhD with the end goal of having a fully human primary cell model to study the mechanisms behind the pain and itch sensations and to investigate methods for treatment in cases of chronic pain and itch. The two significant requirements for an innervated skin model are 1) contact and communication between the sensory neurons and the cells in the epidermis (Figure 1A) and 2) epidermal barrier function similar to that of native skin. To that end we will be investigating different extracellular matrix materials to promote neurite growth within the skin model and we will be studying the barrier function of the model and determining ways to reduce the culture times necessary to achieve physiological barrier function.

Skin model diagram

Figure 1: Skin anatomy. A) Schematic of the skin layers highlighting the interactions between the neurons and the epidermal layers. B,C) Masson’s trichrome staining of (B) native skin and (C) engineered skin. The epidermis is rich in keratin which stains red and collagen is stained blue. Nuclei are purple/black. The brown staining is melanin which is produced from the melanocytes present in native skin.


Headshot of Stacey C. Schutte

Stacey C. Schutte

Assistant Professor, CEAS - Biomedical Eng

848 Engineering Research Cntr


Research areas: Engineering of soft tissue including skin, elastin synthesis, mechanobiology, and effects of proteases on wound healing.