Spanish scientists have developed a three-dimensional printer that can produce human skin in a fraction of the time of earlier methods.
The researchers believe the new bioprinter technology can have a wide range of applications, from wound healing to dermatological product testing.
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 study author José Luis Jorcano of the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M).
The 3D bioprinter creates skin tissue as complex as the human body’s with two layers – the external layer known as the epidermis and the thicker layer underneath known as the dermis.
Traditionally, skin grafts are used to treat patients with burns, infections and other needs, such as skin cancer surgery, and the scientists believe they may have found a fast, reliable method to reduce the need for costly procedures.
While scientists have been able to grow skin in the lab for years, the new method drastically speeds up the process. While lab-grown skin took about three weeks from start to finish, the three-dimensional bioprinter can produce a standard culture plate of skin in less than 35 minutes.
The new technology is currently under review by various European regulatory agencies, according to UC3M.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the new printing technology is that it essentially acts in the same manner as traditional printing except the scientists replace the ink with skin cells, plasma and other biological materials.
“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 co-author Juan Francisco del Cañizo, speaking about the printing system.
The 3D printer was created by the bioengineering company BioDan Group, which is based in Alcobendes, Spain.
“This method of bioprinting allows skin to be generated in a standardized, automated way, and the process is less expensive than manual production,” noted Alfredo Brisac, CEO of BioDan Group.
The scientists involved in the new study had previously engineered “a human plasma-based bi-layered skin” that has been used “successfully to treat burns as well as traumatic and surgical wounds in a large number of patients in Spain,” note the researchers.
They are excited that the new bioprinter technology creates significant “improvements in the production process” by trimming the amount of time needed to produce skin and further standardizing the process to be as error-free as possible.
The bioprinter can create two types of skin – autologous skin, made from an individual’s cells, that can treat burns and other injuries, and allogeneic skin, which uses stock cells and is intended for industrial purposes.
The autologous skin, the researchers believe, is superior to past methods because it uses only the individual’s biological material. “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,” note the researchers.
The article appeared in the journal Biofabrication.
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.