Westworld reality check: Incredible skin-like 3D printing materials

Bio-printed skin is about to become a reality for bioengineers looking for new ways of testing cosmetics or creating skin grafts for burn patients. These are encouraging prospects for both doctors and patients as they will provide an alternative to animal testing for both pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. The traditional skin grafting process leaves a stinging wound that can take up to a few weeks to heal, but that only applies if the burns can be treated. In some cases there are large burns for which doctors cannot find an ideal donor to graft skin from. Pig skin is often used as a way of stopping infections- but frankly, nothing can replace your own skin. This is why researchers and biologists globally are keen on creating a 3D printer that can produce skin grafts to help burn victims. There are several types of printers already that allow for printing of different materials like sensitive protein solutions, polymers and even live celled membranes. Some researchers have been able to reproduce skin using a dermal repair printer for their research.

A small biopsy is taken from a healthy donor before the keratinocytes and fibroblast are expanded in specially grown cultures. Later, the expanded cells can be placed in the bio-printer which prints them in layers on the wound directly. There are different attempts at creating printers to print skin, and with each of the processes- all are different. The most revolutionary technology will benefit more than burn victims. It uses the body’s own bio reactor properties to regenerate skin. This creates great promise for patients with diabetic ulcers, vitiligo among other skin conditions. The inventors of this technology wanted to avoid time consuming cultures that need to be grown. Any sample taken through this process contains fibroblasts, keratinocytes, melanocytes and immune system cells. Even better than cultured cells, these can cover an area 80 times its size. The FDA and other health authorities are keen on making 3D skin printing a reality. As a result, they are working closely with specific companies and bio engineers to accomplish this feat to help hundreds of burn victims recover sooner with less pain and suffering.