Posted with permission from STEAM Register

Lola Gayle, STEAM Register

You can create a lot of things with your average 3D printer: such as musical instruments, cosmological models, water-cleaning bikinis, robots, and even pasta and real human stem cells.

The possibilities are truly endless. Now, researchers from the Carlos III University of Madrid have demonstrated that it is possible to produce proper human skin using new 3D printing technology, and the implications for future applications are vast.

According to José Luis Jorcano, professor in UC3M's department of Bioengineering and Aerospace Engineering and head of the Mixed Unit CIEMAT/UC3M in Biomedical Engineering, this 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."

The bioprinted skin mimics the natural structure of real human skin, with a first external layer, the epidermis with its stratum corneum, which acts as protection against the external environment, together with another thicker, deeper layer, the dermis. This last layer consists of fibroblasts that produce collagen, the protein that gives elasticity and mechanical strength to the skin.

In a statement, the researchers say "this new human skin is one of the first living human organs created using bioprinting to be introduced to the marketplace."

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Special bioinks, which are patented by CIEMAT and licensed by the BioDan Group, make this new 3D bioprinting technology possible, experts say. In the case of skin, the typical cartridges and colored inks have been replaced with injectors with biological components. Mix in a whole lot of technological know-how, and you get skin!

This is a prototype for a 3-D bioprinter that can create totally functional human skin. Credit: UC3M

In the words of Juan Francisco del Cañizo, of the Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón and Universidad Complutense de Madrid researcher, "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."

The act of depositing these bioinks is controlled by a computer, which deposits them on a print bed in an orderly manner to then produce the skin.

Furthermore, the researchers say there are two ways to carry out the tissue-producing process:

  1. To produce allogeneic skin, from a stock of cells, done on a large scale, for industrial processes;
  2. To create autologous skin, which is made case by case from the patient's own cells, for therapeutic use, such as in the treatment of severe burns.

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"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, who are also studying ways to print other human tissues.

Additionally, there are several advantages to this new technology.

"This method of bioprinting allows skin to be generated in a standardized, automated way, and the process is less expensive than manual production," points out Alfredo Brisac, CEO of BioDan Group, the Spanish bioengineering firm specializing in regenerative medicine that is collaborating on this research and commercializing this technology.

Currently, this development is in the phase of being approved by different European regulatory agencies to guarantee that the skin that is produced is adequate for use in transplants on burn patients and those with other skin problems. In addition, these tissues can be used to test pharmaceutical products, as well as cosmetics and consumer chemical products where current regulations require testing that does not use animals.

This research is published in the scientific journal Biofabrication.

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