Jun 7, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers from Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea have developed an efficient and low-cost method for 3D printing human skin. Their hybrid cell 3D printing system contains both extrusion and inkjet modules.

3D printed skin could drastically change the world of medicine

3D printed skin is seen by many as the future of reconstructive surgery. Although doctors can do pretty amazing things with skin grafts—chopping bits of skin off your body (or someone else’s) and adding it to a damaged area—the ability to create and implant entirely new skin could make surgeries easier, safer, and less traumatic for patients.

But you can’t just make skin—not yet, and certainly not without a great deal of expertise and equipment. Fortunately though, researchers in South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology are getting closer to a system that can effectively 3D print skin for reconstructive surgery. They had previously used their technique to create 3D printed bone tissue.

In a paper published today in the journal Biofabrication, the researchers explain how they have developed a hybrid 3D printer that uses two different 3D printing methods to create a skin-like collagen-based material with a polycaprolactone (PCL) membrane. They believe this new system presents a better opportunity for the 3D printing of skin than existing methods.

“Although several approaches have been explored for developing biomimetic human skin models, the present skin models, which are still based on multistep production methods using polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) chips and commercial cell culture inserts, could be limited in making a versatile design that facilitates the development of various functional human skin models,” said lead author Professor Dong-Woo Cho, from Pohang’s department of mechanical engineering.

The researchers think their new method could overcome these limitations. “In this regard, [our] 3D cell-printing technique could establish a new era for advanced skin models,” Cho said.

The 3D printed skin research was carried out at Pohang University in South Korea

The secret to the Korean researchers’ new skin-printing 3D printer is its two simultaneous deposition methods: extrusion and jetting. The printer uses extrusion and inkjet modules at the same time, allowing for the creation of the collagen-based material with a PCL membrane. The combination of these two substances produces something that closely resembles human skin.

“PCL is a biodegradable polyester that prevents collagen's contraction during tissue maturation,” Cho explained. “Meanwhile, we used the inkjet-based dispensing module to uniformly distribute keratinocytes—the predominant cell type in the outermost layer of the skin—onto the engineered skin.”

The Pohang team has already produced a 3D printed skin model that is able to mature without the use of commercial cell culture inserts. The model also showed impressive biological characteristics after 14 days, including a stabilized, fibroblast-stretched dermis and stratified epidermis layers.

Just being able to fabricate 3D printed skin is an amazing achievement, but Cho and the team say that there are other major benefits to their 3D printing method when compared with other techniques.

"Significantly, our new method is around 50 times cheaper than alternative methods, and requires 10 times less base material,” Cho said. “We hope that this new single-step process could provide an attractive and useful platform for engineering fully functional human skin models.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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