A team of scientists successfully used a 3D bioprinter to generate completely functional human skin. The printed skin could be used in research and also had medical applications, such as the treatment of burn victims. By using a bioprinter, researchers can automate and speed up the process of creating skin substitutes. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Biofabrication.
Bioengineering has allowed researchers to create fully functional substitutes for human skin. The substitutes make excellent laboratory models for medical research. Advanced plasma-based bilayered skin was recently designed and produced by a laboratory in Spain. The generated skin contained fully functional dermal and epidermal layers. This incredibly realistic skin replacement was used to treat burns, scars, and serious wounds in a large number of patients. There are some downsides to the new skin substitute, however. It can take weeks to manually create the skin and the process can become complicated. Automation would fix these problems and make the technology more practical.
Researchers from the same laboratory that first produced the bilayered skin substitutes sought to make the procedure both easier and faster. The research team turned to a recently developed medical tool –the 3D bioprinter. The printer uses bioinks, injectors that release biological compounds during the printing process. A computer controls the bioinks, allowing researchers to precisely deposit and mix the biological components. The printer can make generic skin substitutes from laboratory stock cells or it can be used to print personalized skin from a patient’s cells. The team was successful in using the bioprinter to create their realistic skin substitutes and it took less than an hour to produce an amount of skin that could take weeks to produce by hand. The newly generated skin was identical to the substitutes created manually and could be transplanted to mice.
3D bioprinters will become more commonly used in both research and medicine as the technology becomes more widely available. Researchers have now proven that bioprinters can be used to print fully functional, realistic human skin that can be used for therapeutic purposes, including the treatment of severe burns.
Cubo et al. 3D bioprinting of functional human skin: production and in vivo analysis. Biofabrication (2017).