3D printed skin: How can additive manufacturing help to save lives?
Posted By Lucie Gaget on Jul 31, 2018 | 0 comments
We know at Sculpteo that 3D printing and medical projects are great. We saw a few weeks ago how additive manufacturing technology was helping save lives thanks to 3D printed hearts or 3D printed kidneys. But who would have thought that a 3D printer could print skin tissue one day? Today, we will see how this technology can be used to manufacture human skin. Indeed, skin printers are now a reality to heal severe burns, skin diseases, or test chemicals… You will see that the benefits are numerous.
Let’s see how the evolution of 3D printing and 3D bioprinting allows us to create 3D printed skin and the advantages of this process.
3D bioprinting: When the technology can print human cells
What is bioprinting?
Bioprinting is not a technology picked up from a science-fiction story. It is now a reality for the medical sector. More and more 3D printing materials are available on the market, but now it is also becoming possible to 3D print cells thanks to new efficient 3D machines.
These 3D bioprinters can recreate and grow cells from the actual stem cells of a patient. These bioprinting experiments are starting to revolutionize the medical field. It is becoming possible to 3D print body parts, organs, but also skin tissues.
Check our previous blog post about 3D bioprinters for more information about bioprinting.
How can 3D bioprinting revolutionize the medical industry?
Skin transplant to save lives
3D printing can help solve some of the problems that we have in the medical sector. For example, we have to wait for a donor when a patient needs an organ for a transplant or a new skin tissue to heal a vital wound.
Waiting for a donor is a long process, but these patients don’t have time to waste. That is precisely where the additive manufacturing technology can help them: it can use the patient’s cells to create a functional organ, an organ part, or now, even a brand new skin tissue!
This process could help accident victims and burn patients by providing viable skin grafts. It will be a real-time-saving, considerably easing the whole process as only one machine will be required. Donors and additional surgeries will not be needed anymore.
3D printed skin to test chemicals
3D-printed skin can help to heal wounds, but that is not it. These new skin printers can help to save lives on other levels. Indeed, 3D printing human skin can be a great solution to test chemicals and develop new medical treatments. By creating a 3D skin with the patient’s cells, it could even be possible to develop a customized treatment for him and test it before!
This process could avoid testing cosmetics and chemicals on animals for example. Additive manufacturing will help solve some ethical problems by developing functional skin tissue and living cells reacting like natural ones.
3D printed skin: How is it possible, and what has been made?
For the moment, you will not be able to get your skin 3D printer. But some promising experiments let us dream about efficient skin 3D printers able to save millions of lives relatively faster than what we can do today.
Here is a selection of impressive experiments made with 3D skin printers worldwide.
3D printing skin over wounds
Here is a fantastic skin 3D printer developed by researchers at the University of Toronto. This portable 3D printer can lay down strips of skin. It could be used to print skin directly on a patient.
To make this little bioprinter work, you must get and grow cells. This process can take time. That is why researchers are talking about using the stem cells of a universal donor. It could be a solution to mass-produce cells compatible with all the possible patients. This technology has to be improved, but the first experiments are promising and show that it is possible to use a small but efficient device to 3D print human skin.
In the video below, discover a quick demonstration of the portable skin 3D printer.
3D printing functional skin
Scientists from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón, CIEMAT (Center for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research), in collaboration with BioDan Group, unveiled the prototype of a 3D bioprinter that can print functional human skin.
The bioprinter can recreate the natural structure of the skin with different layers—an external layer to protect the external environment, the epidermis. There is also another thicker and deeper layer, the dermis. And the last layer is what gives elasticity and mechanical strength to the 3D printed skin, producing collagen thanks to fibroblasts.
This is still a prototype, but it could soon be used to help burned patients with the transplant, for example.
Pigmentation for 3D printed skin?
Most of the time, the 3D skins don’t look like natural skin, even if it has been printed using natural skin cells. These skin tissues don’t have the same characteristics as hair follicles or pigmentation.
Researchers and scientists at A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) and the Singapore Centre for 3D Printing (SC3DP) at Nanyang Technological University developed a pigmented skin made using a 3D skin printer. They created a uniform skin pigmentation using bioprinting to check the distribution of skin cells producing melanin, or melanocytes.
This could be significant progress for people needing skin grafts, as there are a lot of different skin colors. Having a skin graft matching the patient’s skin will be a massive step for the medical industry. Indeed, it could improve the healing process for the patient.
3D printed skin on the market
Poietis is a French biotechnology company specializing in regenerative medicine. The company is about to commercialize Poieskin, a 3D bioprinted skin. They are the first to put skin on the market.
Poietis offers partnerships to design and create tissues that will be adapted to any needs or projects. They are working with big companies to develop 3D tissue models for research and therapeutic purposes.
Here is a little demonstration of the technology that they are using: laser-assisted bioprinting:
As you can see, skin printing is now a reality. It will be beneficial to heal severe burns and any other kind of skin wounds and skin diseases. It is also a new opportunity for researchers to develop new medical treatments and test them on functional skin tissue. New bioprinter prototypes are promising. Once again, we can notice that additive manufacturing still has much to offer to the medical sector.
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Credit image: Sky News