In what is being considered as a revolutionary research in the arena of 3D bioprinting of human skin, researchers at the A*STAR Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) and Singapore Centre for 3D Printing (SC3DP) at Nanyang Technological University have developed a way that can make possible 3D bioprinting of skin with the naturally occurring pigmentation.
The process is considered revolutionary because it has made possible 3D bioprinting of skin that closely resembles native skin – a feature that is better than some of the previous technologies used to fabricate skin constructs such as the manual-casting approach. In their study, published in Biofabrication, researchers used different types of skin cells – melanocytes, keratinocytes, and fibroblasts and used 3D bioprinting to control the distribution of melanocytes using a two-step drop-on-demand bioprinting strategy.
Using this strategy, the researchers fabricated the hierarchical porous collagen-based structures that closely resemble the natural skin’s dermal region and facilitated the deposition of epidermal cells such as keratinocytes and melanocytes at the desired positions to create 3D in-vitro (artificial environment outside the living organism) pigmented skin. Melanocytes are cells in the skin that produce and contain the pigment melanin, a natural substance which gives the skin its colour (pigment) whereas keratinocytes are cells found in the epidermis that produce keratin, a tough protein that makes up the majority of structure of the skin and provide strength to the skin.
Currently, skin constructs developed from manual casting are used to produce skin grafts. However, these grafts lack the naturally occurring substances of skin such as sweat glands, hair follicles and most importantly pigmentation which gives the skin its colour. The bioprinting of skin grafts consisting of naturally occurring pigmentation will allow creation of skin constructs that closely resemble natural skin.
This could be life changing as it could be used to produce skin grafts for victims of burns or accidents. Normally, patients who require skin grafting want new skin that resembles their own skin but they do not get it from engineered skin grafts. However, with the help of this new process, skin grafts could be constructed using natural pigmentation and people could get grafts that closely resemble their own skin colour.
Moreover, this process could also foster cosmetic testing and women may soon be able to find cosmetics that best match their skin tone. This might prove beneficial for cosmetic firms who intend to test their cosmetic products on human skin such as the French cosmetic maker, L’Oreal who has partnered with Organovo – a bio engineering firm to 3D print human skin which it can use to test cosmetics.
It is not just skin grafting; the researchers conclude that their novel 3D bioprinting of skin with natural pigmentation can also be used to create skin constructs for potential toxicology testing and fundamental cell biology research.