Research of the Month: 3D bio-printing of human skin

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A team of researchers led by Prof. Sourabh Ghosh of the Department of Textile Technology have successfully bio-printed a 3D model of the human skin. The model has features identical to human skin in terms of its structure and composition and can serve as a potential alternative for clinical testing of cosmetic products which currently involves animals.

Motivation:

There is a sheer number of people suffering from burns and skin diseases who need a skin transplant. Usually, skin from another portion of their body or from a donor is transplanted in the procedure. Since 100 years tissue engineers have been trying to develop transplantable artificial skin but have been failing because the skin they create is unable to imitate the structure and functionality of human skin. The transplantable skin has to at least match with the donor and at the same time biologically function like normal skin. The need for such a skin model for the people in need was the primary motivation behind this project.

About the Project:

The human skin is composed of two main layers, the inner dermis and outer epidermis, which are separated by an undulated morphology. This separation is important because it provides structural stability to the skin and acts as a boundary between the two layers by not allowing cells to cross the junction. The epidermal layer consists of keratinocytes and melanocytes while the dermis is made of fibroblasts.

The model skin is created through Bio-printing which is similar to ordinary printing, however, the contents of the bio-ink for the bioprinter are cells, proteins and polymers.

The bio-ink containing fibroblasts was used to grow the dermis and the one containing keratinocytes and melanocytes was used to grow the epidermis. The undulatory junction was designed using 3D CAD.

Another interesting thing to be noted is that the bio-printed skin is able to retain its original dimension without any substantial shrinkage for up to three weeks, thus allowing more time for testing.

Bioprinted human skin made at IITD  © Sourabh Ghosh

The funding of the project was provided by ITC limited and the results were published in the journal Bioprinting.

Challenges Faced:

The major challenge they face is the time constraint in culturing the cells and tissues of a sample for bio-printing which takes about a month or two. This presently makes it ineffective to use for skin transplantation. Prof. Ghosh remarked that he had received a call from the AIIMS trauma centre for the usage of the lab cultured skin for the patients, but because that was not feasible, he had to turn them down.

What’s Next?

Most of the cosmetic products we use today are tested on animals. These tests are unethical and the European Commission has already banned the testing of finished cosmetic products and ingredients on animals. On top of that, these tests do not always give a clear idea of the results of the product on humans. The 3D printed skin can act as a suitable alternative for such clinical testing and could give us a more accurate idea of the effectiveness or any potential side effects of a product on human skin. To add to that, animals won’t be tested upon, which would satiate PETA’s (World’s largest animal rights organisation) long-standing demand.

Article by: Abhiroop Agrawal

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