Spanish scientists have made a prototype 3D bioprinter that can create functional human skin.
The skin, which could be used to support burn victims and others who require skin replacement, could be one of the first living human organs produced through bioprinting to be available in the marketplace.
'[The skin] can be transplanted into 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,' said Professor José Luis Jorcano of Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Spain, one of the researchers behind the project.
Bioprinting is the construction of artificial tissue using 3D printers. It is hoped the process could be used to combat the shortage of suitable donor material for transplants.
Bioprinters work by depositing droplets of so-called 'bioink', containing biological material, into a hydrogel which functions as a placeholder. Cells must be handled with care to avoid damaging them and are mixed with polymers to stabilise the structure.
'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,' said Juan Francisco del Cañizo, of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain.
Skin substitutes have been grown in the lab for some time but the process is performed manually and takes a long time. It can take up to three weeks to produce enough skin to cover a large wound. The bioprinting process used by the Spanish team produced 100 cm2 of skin in less than 35 minutes. The method can produce skin from stock cells, for industrial use or, using a patient's own cells, for therapeutic use.
'This method of bioprinting allows skin to be generated in a standardized, automated way, and the process is less expensive than manual production,' said Alfredo Brisac, chief executive of BioDan Group, the Spanish bioengineering firm which collaborated on this research.
The authors say the bioprinted skin replicates the natural structure of the skin, and can generate its own human collagen, avoiding the use of animal collagen.
The research is currently being assessed by European regulatory agencies to guarantee that the artificial skin is suitable for medical use.
The study was published in Biofabrication.