Nieves Cubo, from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, and colleagues have developed a prototype 3D printer that can print functional human skin that can be used for skin transplants in burn patients and as an ethical alternative to animal testing.
How The 3D Bioprinter Works
The bioprinter uses a special bioink made of human cells and other biological components to reproduce the skin's natural structure, including the external epidermis and the deeper dermis layer.
The bioink from the special injectors are deposited into a print bed to create skin that can produce its own human collagen, which means that the 3D-printed skin is essentially a living tissue.
The technology thus offers a better alternative to producing living tissue, which commonly involves using the patient's own skin or by using animal tissues.
The 3D-printed skin currently has two main potential applications. One is for testing new compounds in the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries.
Using 3D-printed skin offers a better option for industries where using animals is no longer possible or already restricted. Animals, for instance, are no longer as widely used as before for testing cosmetic products. The European Union, India, Israel, and Norway have already banned the sale of cosmetic products that have been tested on animals.
Aside from the ethical issue of using animals to test cosmetics, chemicals and other products, in pharmaceuticals, the results gathered from tests involving animals cannot always apply to humans, which makes 3D-printed skin a viable option since it is similar to human tissues.
Another potential application of the technology is for patients with skin problems. The printed skin can be used for creating skin transplants for burn patients or for those with severe skin problems, albeit this would require approval from regulatory agencies.
One Of First Living Human Organs To Be Offered In The Marketplace
The new human skin produced by the technology is one of the first living human organs to be made available to the marketplace, but the technology still needs to be green-lighted by regulators to ensure that the skin that it produces is fit to be used by human patients.
The bioprinted skin can be produced in quantities as well as in timetables and prices compatible with the uses. Alfredo Brisac, the CEO of BioDan Group, a bioengineering firm commercializing the technology, said that the method allows production of skin in a standardized and automated way. The process is also less expensive compared with manual production.
"The generated skin was very similar to human skin and, furthermore, it was indistinguishable from bi-layered dermo-epidermal equivalents, handmade in our laboratories," the researchers wrote in their study published in Biofabrication. "These results demonstrate that 3D bioprinting is a suitable technology to generate bioengineered skin for therapeutical and industrial applications in an automatized manner."
Potential For Printing Other Human Tissues
The technology also has potential for printing other human tissues, offering a range of possibilities particularly in the field of medicine.
Experts hope that technologies capable of printing tissues and organs such as hearts and arteries can help address problems of organ shortage that for some patients can make a difference between life and death.