Scientists in Madrid have created a prototype for a 3D bioprinter that can create fully functional human skin. This method allows skin to be generated in a standardized, automated way, and the process is less expensive than manual production, and the skin produced is suitable for transplanting to patients or for use in research or the testing of cosmetic, chemical, and pharmaceutical products.
The team of researchers from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), CIEMAT (Center for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research), Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón, in collaboration with the firm BioDan Group has demonstrated, for the first time using the new 3-D printing technology, it is possible to produce proper human skin. This new human skin is one of the first living human organs created using bioprinting to be introduced to the marketplace. It replicates the natural structure of the 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. Take a look at how it comes together in the video below.
Bio-inks are key to 3-D bioprinting, according to the researchers. The cartridges are similar to standard printer inks, however they contain protein, cells, and other biological components. "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," says Juan Francisco del Cañizo, of the Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón and Universidad Complutense de Madrid researcher. The act of depositing these bioinks, which are patented by CIEMAT and licensed by the BioDan Group, is controlled by a computer, which deposits them on a print bed in an orderly manner to then produce the skin. The printing process can be carried out in two ways depending on how it will be used. To produce allogeneic skin for industrial processes, they use a stock of cells on a large scale; and to create autologous skin for therapeutic use, it relies on the patient's own cells for individual treatments. Either way the bioinks only use human cells and components to produce skin that is bioactive and can generate its own human collagen.
Currently, this method is under review by 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. Researchers are also investigating ways to print other human tissues.