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A printer that makes skin

The 3D printer uses biological components instead of cartridges.
The 3D printer uses biological components instead of cartridges. / EFE
  • Spanish scientists have designed a 3D bioprinter which can replicate human skin for use in grafts and for testing cosmetics

Spanish researchers have designed a 3D bioprinter which can recreate "totally functional" human skin and will be a major breakthrough in the treatment of patients who need skin grafts, such as those suffering from major burns. Bioprinters are similar to inkjet printers, but instead of cartridges they use syringes with different biological components. The scientists expect this latest form of technology to be available with two or three months.

José Luis Jorcano runs the Biomedical Engineering deparment at the Carlos III university in Madrid (UC3M), which has been set up jointly with the Ciemat Centre for Energy, Environmental and Technical Reserarch. On this project, they have collaborated closely with the Gregorio Marañón university hospital in Madrid and the BioDan Group, which in July last year became the first Spanish company to create 100 per cent human skin.

Dr Jorcano says "it all comes down to the bio-ink" in 3D bioprinters which can be used in many types of dermal research as well as in testing cosmetics. "Now we have gone one step further. We want the process of creating human skin to be automised, on a larger scale and at a lower cost," he explains.

The deposition of these bio-inks is controlled by computer. The skin is created on a plate, which is then put into an incubator at 37ºC. Two types are produced: autologous skin, created from an individual patient's cells, to be used therapeutically such as for serious burns, and allogeneic skin, from the cells of a donor.

The latter is the most advanced and most suitable for chemical testing for medication or cosmetics. In both processes the patient or donor's cells are extracted by a small biopsy, cultivated in the laboratory and multiplied, a procedure which can take up to three weeks.