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We take a look at the breakthrough 3D bioprinter which can print

human skin and could see the end of cosmetic testing on animals.

Cosmetic testing has been a controversial topic for many years, with protestors tirelessly campaigning against the use of animals as test subjects for products. However, animal testing may be a thing of the past thanks to Spanish scientists who have created a 3D bioprinter which can print human skin.

A prototype of a 3D bioprinter that can create functional human skin has been presented by scientists from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), CIEMAT (Center for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research), Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón, in association with the firm BioDan Group. The skin produced can be used for transplants; in research; or to test cosmetic, chemical, and pharmaceutical products.

This research has recently been published in the electronic version of the scientific journal Biofabrication. In this article, the team of researchers demonstrated, for the first time, that actual human skin can be produced by using the new 3D printing technology.

This new human skin is one of the first living human organs, created using bioprinting, to be introduced to the marketplace. The printed skin 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 which produce collagen - the protein that gives elasticity and mechanical strength to the skin.

The 3D printing process involves using bioinks. Rather than cartridges and coloured inks, injectors with biological components are used.

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 for 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, such as in the treatment of severe burns.

24 | Tomorrow’s Laboratories

Over the last 25 years, significant progress has been made in the development of vitro-engineered substitutes that mimic human skin, either to be used as grafts for the replacement of lost skin, or for the establishment of in vitro human skin models.

The research published in the Biofabrication journal discusses how human plasma-based bilayered skin, generated by the group of researchers, was applied successfully to treat burns as well as traumatic and surgical wounds in a large number of patients in Spain. However, there have been some issues presented that scientists have been working to overcome with the introduction of 3D bioprinting.

With manual methods of creating replica skin, one issue was that it took a relatively long time (three weeks) to produce the surface required to cover an extensive burn or a large wound. 3D bioprinting has emerged as a flexible tool in regenerative medicine, providing an alternative to manual replication which could overcome such challenges.

The research documents that the study printed the skin using bioinks containing human plasma, as well as primary human fibroblasts and keratinocytes that were obtained from skin biopsies. The researchers were able to generate 100 cm2

, a standard P100 tissue culture plate,

of printed skin in less than 35 minutes (including the 30 minutes required for fibrin gelation). They went on to analyse the structure and function of the printed skin using histological and immunohistochemical methods, both in 3D in vitro cultures and after long-term transplantation to immunodeficient mice. In both cases, the generated skin held strong similarities to human skin and was, in fact, indistinguishable from bilayered dermo-epidermal equivalents, handmade in the researchers’ laboratories.

The development is currently in the process of being approved by various European regulatory agencies to guarantee that the skin produced is adequate for use in transplants on burn patients and those with other skin problems. The tissues will also be able to be used to test pharmaceutical products, as well as cosmetics and consumer chemical products where current regulations require testing that does not use animals.

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