Human skin can be created using 3D-printing

3D bio-printer creates functional human skin

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A 3D printer that produces functional human skin that can be used for transplants or lab research has been developed by Spanish researchers.

The technology could revolutionise healing of burns, as it allows the creation of a new layer of skin directly from the patient’s own cells. It may also be possible to end testing of cosmetic, chemical and pharmaceutical products on animals thanks to the new invention.

“The skin can be transplanted to patients or used in business settings to test chemical products, cosmetics or pharmaceutical products in quantities and with timetables and prices that are compatible with these uses,” said José Luis Jorcano, from the Bioengineering and Aerospace Engineering department of the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M).

The UC3M team developed the technology jointly with Center for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research (CIEMAT), Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón, and bioengineering company BioDan Group.

The 3D printer uses bio-inks - suspensions of biological components - to create the skin. The skin’s structure mimics that of natural human skin featuring the protective outer layer of dead cells called stratum corneum, as well as the deeper collagen-producing fibroblasts containing dermis.

“Knowing how to mix the biological components, in what conditions to work with them so that the cells don’t deteriorate and how to correctly deposit the product is critical to the system,” explained Juan Francisco del Cañizo, of the Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón and Universidad Complutense de Madrid, who collaborated with the UC3M team.

The structured depositing of the bio-inks onto a substrate is entirely controlled by a computer.

The researchers can either tailor the skin directly for a particular person by using his or her own cells, or create a generic skin from a stock of cells for the needs of the industry.

“This method of bio-printing allows skin to be generated in a standardised, automated way and the process is less expensive than manual production,” said Alfredo Brisac, BioDan Group’s CEO.

“We use only human cells and components to produce skin that is bioactive and can generate its own human collagen, thereby avoiding the use of the animal collagen that is found in other methods.”

The skin is one of the first human 3D-printed organs aspiring for a commercial launch. The technology is currently being reviewed by European regulators, awaiting approval for use in the treatment of burns and other serious skin damage.

The researchers hope to be able to 3D-print other human organs in future.

The method was described in the latest issue of the journal Biofabrication.

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