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Gimme some skin: Boffins perfect 3D bioprinter that emits slabs of human flesh

Just imagine what a printer jam looks like

By Iain Thomson, 25 Jan 2017

Vid 3D printing for most users is limited to polymer printing, or in some cases metal – but now a team from Spain has built hardware that can print actual human skin.

The scientists, from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, the Center for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research, and the Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón have built the printer to help burn victims needing transplants and medical testers developing new skin medications.

"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, CEO of local bioengineering firm BioDan Group, who helped with the project.

In a paper [paywalled] for the journal Biofabrication, the team details how the printer lays down bioinks containing human plasma as well as primary human fibroblasts and keratinocytes. The printer first lays down a layer of external epidermis and then a thicker layer of fibroblasts that produce collagen, which will make the flesh strong and elastic.

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"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 Hospital General Universitario.

The end result is a 100-cm2 slab of skin, printed in 35 minutes, that can be transplanted onto patients. Its production can be automated to a large degree. The skin can also be used to test the irritant qualities of consumer products without having to shave animals and use them as test subjects.

"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 team notes in its paper.

The technique works, but it may be some time before the team can get the necessary regulatory permission to try the technique on human patients. However, since the printer can use cells cultured from a patient's body, it's hoped those needing a skin transplant will be able to benefit from the technique with little risk. ®

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