Innovation

Scientists 3D Print Living Skin Complete With Blood Vessels

The manufacturing industry has been using 3D printers to produce materials for their products, from plastics to metals. Scientists have also seen great benefits in using the technology and started to explore areas where it can be utilized. 

A team from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York found that 3D printing can help in treating conditions and injuries that damaged the skin. The researchers used the technology to produce living skin with blood vessels, which appear like natural skin on the human body. 

"Right now, whatever is available as a clinical product is more like a fancy Band-Aid," Pankaj Karande, lead researcher and an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer, said in a statement. "It provides some accelerated wound healing, but eventually it just falls off; it never really integrates with the host cells."

The 3D-printed skin, described in the journal Tissue Engineering Part A, uses "bio-inks" made from a combination of human endothelial cells, pericyte cells, animal collagen and structural cells found in a skin graft. The mixture enabled the researchers to form a vascular structure and print skin-like materials within weeks.  

The team placed the 3D-printed skin onto a mouse to see if the 3D-printed skin will function like natural skin. The material appeared like a living skin when its blood vessels connected with the mouse's own vessels.

"That's extremely important, because we know there is actually a transfer of blood and nutrients to the graft which is keeping the graft alive," Karande said.

However, the researchers noted they have yet to improve the method before using the 3D-printed skin on human patients. The current version requires modifying donor cells using gene editing, the CRISPR technology, to allow blood vessels to integrate and be accepted by the patient's body.

Karande added that it would be complicated to transfer the 3D-printed skin to patients that suffered severe burns. Such injury commonly leads to loss of nerve and vascular endings. 

But the grafts can already be used in people with diabetic or pressure ulcers. Those patients would only need small pieces of skin and wound healing is faster than burn patients. 

"This significant development highlights the vast potential of 3D bioprinting in precision medicine, where solutions can be tailored to specific situations and eventually to individuals," Deepak Vashishth, director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) at Rensselaer, said.

3D bioprinting Researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute produced living skin with blood vessels in the lab using a new 3D printing process. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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