Faster, cheaper method for printing human skin "could establish a new era"

South Korean researchers unveil single-step process for making synthetic skin

Using additive manufacturing techniques to produce synthetic human skin has been a goal for bioengineers for some years; it would greatly assist in procedures such as reconstructive surgery and treatment for severe burns. A team from Pohang University in South Korea has now published a description of a new process which, unlike the current state-of-the-art process, can make a 3D structure synthetic skin in a single process.

The lead author on the team's paper, in the journal Biofabrication, Prof Dong-Woo Cho, explains: "Although several approaches have been explored for developing biomimetic human skin models, the present skin models, which are still based on multistep production methods using polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) chips and commercial cell culture inserts, could be limited in making a versatile design that facilitates the development of various functional human skin models.”

The new approach is a hybrid system, which uses extrusion and inkjet modules on the printer head simultaneously. They used the extrusion module to engineer a scaffolding of a collagen-based material with a polycaprolactone (PCL) membrane, while the inkjet system distributed keratinocytes – the main cell type in the outermost layer of the skin – uniformly onto the scaffolding. “PCL is a biodegradable polyester that prevents collagen’s contraction during tissue maturation,” said Cho.

Two weeks after printing, the skin displayed good biological characteristics including a layered structure and good stretching characteristics, the team claims.

"Significantly, our new method is around 50 times cheaper than alternative methods, and requires 10 times less base material,” Cho said. “In this regard, [this] 3D cell-printing technique could establish a new era for advanced skin models.”