Scientists in Madrid have developed a new bioprinter they claim can 3D-print sheets of functional human skin for use in transplants or research. The development could mean the end of skin grafts for medical use, while also providing a cruelty-free means of testing chemicals, cosmetics or pharmaceutical products.

The team comprises a knowledge base of scientists from the Spanish city’s Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), CIEMAT (Center for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research) and Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón. They have collaborated with BioDan Group, the Spanish bioengineering firm specialising in regenerative medicine  with a particular focus on skin, and are now working on commercialising this technology.

It is the latest development from the burgeoning Madrid Bioscience Region, which is quickly being recognised as a leading European centre of Life Sciences research and development. The Regional Ministry of Economy and Technology Innovation, in collaboration with the Madrid Biotechnology Companies Association (BioMadrid), promotes the Madrid Bioscience Region as a biocluster of international excellence, underpinned by a cooperative network of pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, biotech-related companies, CROs, hospitals, research centres, universities and financing agencies. It is home to 400 companies, creating 24,000 direct jobs, and boasts 83 per cent of Spain’s total R&D investment by private biotechnology companies. Some 5,000 researchers work in public research centres and universities in Madrid in the Life Sciences, with around 27,000 patients involved in more than 1,000 clinical trials each year.

Specific details of how the bioprinter works are being kept under wraps, but essentially a computer selectively deposits bio-inks made up of plasma, proteins, skin cells and other biological components onto a print bed.

Juan Francisco del Cañizo, of the Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón and Universidad Complutense de Madrid, says: “Knowing how to mix the biological components, in what conditions to work with them so that the cells don’t deteriorate, and how to correctly deposit the product is critical to the system.”

The end product replicates the natural structure of the skin, with an outer layer – the epidermis – which protects against the elements, and another thicker, deeper layer, the dermis, which consists of fibroblasts that produce collagen, the protein that gives elasticity and mechanical strength to the skin. Only human cells and components are used, producing skin that is bioactive and can generate its own human collagen, thereby avoiding the use of the animal collagen that is found in other methods.

The process can be carried out in two ways: Allogeneic skin can be made from a stock of human skin cells, and done on a large scale for research or industrial processes; Autologous skin, which is made from a patient’s own cells, is for therapeutic use, such as in the treatment of severe burns. In the latter case, a sufficient number of a patient’s skin cells have to first be grown in a lab, in a process that takes approximately two weeks. After that, the actual printing takes one to two days.

Alfredo Brisac, CEO of BioDan Group, notes several advantages to this new technology: “This method of bioprinting allows skin to be generated in a standardized, automated way, and the process is less expensive than manual production.”

The development is currently being assessed by different European regulatory agencies to assess whether the skin that is produced is adequate for use in transplants. The group is also researching ways to print other human tissues.


(via Carlos III University of Madrid, BioMadrid, New Atlas)
Featured image: The skin-making bioprinter (Credit: Carlos III University of Madrid)