New Living 3D-Printed Skin Includes Vascular System
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on November 21, 2019 |

3D printing has gained a massive footing in the medical arena with an array of innovations including wireless sensors and implants to study the brain. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have melded the technology with the human system to create 3D-printied living skin with blood vessels.

The recently published research is part of ongoing work by a team led by Pankaj Karande, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering and member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS). Previous work involved creating “bio-inks” from two kinds of human cells that could print structures similar to skin.

Working alongside researchers from the Yale School of Medicine, the research team focused on incorporating a vascular system into the skin-like structures. Its work has the potential to open doors for new skin-grafting capabilities that are more natural.

“Right now, whatever is available as a clinical product is more like a fancy Band-Aid,” Karande said. “It provides some accelerated wound healing, but eventually it just falls off; it never really integrates with the host cells.”

Bio-inks infused with key elements to create a biological communication system have resulted in the ability to 3D print a skin-like structure with a vascular system. (Image courtesy of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.)
Bio-inks infused with key elements to create a biological communication system have resulted in the ability to 3D print a skin-like structure with a vascular system. (Image courtesy of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.)

This latest research resulted in the addition of human endothelial cells, animal collagen and skin graft-related structural cells. To put its research to the test, the Yale team grafted the 3D-printed skin onto a mouse. The additional elements allowed a communication system to form between cells. Within a few weeks, that communication evolved into the new vascular structure connecting to the mouse’s vessels.

“That’s extremely important, because we know there is actually a transfer of blood and nutrients to the graft which is keeping the graft alive,” Karande said.

With promising results already in hand, the team still has more work to do. For use at a clinical level, donor cells would require CRISPR or related technology to help the vessels be integrated and accepted by a patient. There are also challenges yet to overcome for cases involving the loss of nerve and vascular endings.

The researchers believe this technology could also be beneficial for people with ulcers or those who are diabetic, because they tend to heal slowly. These grafts could be used on a patient’s precise ulcer or injury location to speed up the healing process.

“This significant development highlights the vast potential of 3D bioprinting in precision medicine, where solutions can be tailored to specific situations and eventually to individuals,” said Deepak Vashishth, CBIS director. “This is a perfect example of how engineers at Rensselaer are solving challenges related to human health.”

For more insight into the medical potential of 3D printing, check out Medical 3D Printing: Where Are We Now?

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