Jan 24, 2017 | By Benedict
Scientists from Spain have developed a prototype for a 3D bioprinter that can print functional human skin. They say the 3D printed skin is fit to be transplanted onto patients or used to test chemical products, cosmetics, or pharmaceutical products.
It might be a while before scientists are capable of 3D printing complex organs like livers, kidneys, and hearts, but until then there is still lots of important and exciting research to be carried out in the 3D bioprinting sphere. Like creating 3D printed skin, for example. Scientists from Spain’s Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), CIEMAT (Center for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research), Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón, and BioDan Group have created a prototype 3D bioprinter that is capable of fabricating functional human skin that is suitable for both transplantation and product testing scenarios.
In fact, the Spanish researchers are so confident in the quality of their prototype 3D bioprinter, they say the 3D printed skin produced on the machine is going straight to the marketplace. That’s because the 3D printed organ fully replicates the natural structure of natural skin. First there is the external layer, the epidermis, which acts as protection against the external environment. Then there is another thicker, deeper layer: the dermis. This layer consists of fibroblasts that produce collagen, the protein that gives elasticity and mechanical strength to skin. Together these layers help the 3D bioprinted structure behave and function just like our own skin.
To create the 3D printed skin, the Spanish scientists developed their own 3D printable bioink that contains human plasma as well as primary human fibroblasts and keratinocytes obtained from skin biopsies. This bioink, patented by CIEMAT and licensed by the BioDan Group, is deposited into precise formations by the computer-controlled bioprinter. “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,” said Juan Francisco del Cañizo, a researcher at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
Deciding whose primary human fibroblasts and keratinocytes are put into the bioink depends on the ultimate purpose of the 3D printed skin, the researchers explain. If some 3D printed skin is needed for therapeutic use, say, to give a new patch of skin to a burn victim, then the patient’s own skin is needed to create new, autologous, 3D bioprinted skin that will be biologically compatible with that patient. Sometimes, however, the researchers will 3D print skin for industrial processes such as pharmaceutical testing, for which allogeneic skin—skin made up of genetically dissimilar cells, from a large stock of available cells—will be used. Animal collagen is never required.
The researchers say that their 3D bioprinting process has several advantages, both in terms of cost and function. “This method of bioprinting allows skin to be generated in a standardized, automated way, and the process is less expensive than manual production,” said Alfredo Brisac, CEO of BioDan Group, the Spanish bioengineering firm responsible for commercializing the technology.
Before medical centers and other entities begin purchasing 3D printed skin from the research group, different European regulatory agencies will need to approve the process to ensure that the 3D bioprinted skin is adequate for use in transplants on burn patients and those with other skin problems. The researchers, however, are fully confident that their new skin 3D printing system is able to produce a fully functional, fully safe product that could change the lives of millions of patients.
“We have analysed the structure and function of the printed skin using histological and immunohistochemical methods, both in 3D in vitro cultures and after long-term transplantation to immunodeficient mice,” the scientists’ research paper states. “In both cases, the generated skin was very similar to human skin and, furthermore, it was indistinguishable from bilayered dermo-epidermal equivalents, handmade in our laboratories. These results demonstrate that 3D bioprinting is a suitable technology to generate bioengineered skin for therapeutical and industrial applications in an automatized manner.”
The research paper, “3D bioprinting of functional human skin: production and in vivo analysis,” has been published in the journal Biofabrication.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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