Scientists 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, have presented a prototype for a 3D bioprinter that can create totally functional human skin. The skin can be used for transplantation to patients or in research and testing of cosmetic, chemical, and pharmaceutical products. The research was recently published in the scientific journal Biofabrication.
A team of researchers has demonstrated, for the first time, that, using a new 3D printing technology, it is possible to produce proper human skin. One of the authors, José Luis Jorcano, professor at UC3M points out that the 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.”
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.
Bioinks are key to 3D bioprinting, according to the experts. When creating skin, instead of cartridges and colored inks, injectors with biological components are used. “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,” accordin to Juan Francisco del Cañizo, researchers at the Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón. 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 process of producing these tissues can be carried out in two ways: to produce allogeneic skin, from a stock of cells, done on a large scale for industrial processes; and to create autologous skin, which is made case by case from the patient’s own cells for therapeutic use. “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,” the researchers said.
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,” noted Alfredo Brisac, CEO of BioDan Group, the Spanish bioengineering firm specializing in regenerative medicine that is collaborating on this research and commercializing the technology.
The technology is currently in the process of being approved by different European regulatory agencies to guarantee that the skin can be used in transplants on burn victims and patients with other skin conditions. They are also investigating the possibility of using the technology to print other human tissues.