A team of scientists at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), the Center for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research, and Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón in Madrid have been the first to develop a 3D bioprinter capable of creating fully-functional human skin.
The 3D bioprinting technique is used to bioprint tissue that replicates the natural skin structure. The bioprinted human skin contains an epidermis layer complete with stratum corneum, a dermis layer, and a third layer consisting of fibroblasts. Those fibroblasts are capable of producing collagen to give the 3D bioprinted skin strength and elasticity.
3D bioprinters do not use inks, instead they print with cells, building up tissues layer by layer. One of the most important elements in the bioprinting process is the selection of suitable biological components to use in the printers. Getting the right mix of biological components can be a real challenge. Get the mix wrong and cells can deteriorate before printing has been completed. Deposit the cells incorrectly and the resultant tissue will not function as it should.
The researchers have perfected their technique and bio printer and can create two forms of human skin with the new 3D bio printing technique. Skin can be printed from human cells to create a fully bioactive tissue that could be transplanted into patients. Since the tissue produces human collagen it is not necessary to use animal collagen, which is used in other skin generation techniques. The researchers can harvest cells from individual patients and could produce artificial human skin on a case by case basis. The 3D printed human skin could be used to treat burn victims, reducing scarring and greatly speeding up recovery.
The second form of allogenic human skin is created from cell stocks. This form of skin can easily be mass produced and has considerable potential for use in the cosmetics, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries. The bioprinting method used by the researchers allows human skin to be generated in a standardized and automated way and the technique is less expensive than manual production. Since the method is scalable, it is well suited for producing human skin in the quantities necessary for research and industrial applications.
While researchers have already developed 3D bioprinters capable of generating human tissue, this is one of the very few 3D bioprinters that can be used to bioprint a living human organ. However, while the technique has been shown to be effective for bioprinting fully-functional human skin, the technology must be approved by European regulatory bodies. Only then will it be possible to scale up production and use the 3D printed tissue in clinical trials. However, the researchers are confident that approval will be gained and the technique and technology will be deemed to be safe for use.