A team of scientists in Spain has designed the prototype of a printer that can create human skin and could one day provide the material needed for transplants and skin grafts.
The team, from Madrid, say their printer is "totally functional" and hope to soon take the design to the market, once it has gained regulatory approval.
The current trials will determine whether the skin produced by the technology is sufficiently lifelike to be used in transplants involving patients with burns and other skin conditions, as well as in cosmetic procedures.
The printer is based on the creation, back in 2000, of an 'in vitro' technology which could generate skin to cover a patient's entire body in just three weeks, based on a biopsy. One of the team's leaders, José Luis Jorcano, said the researchers have now taken this process one step further and their advances will allow production on a grand scale and facilitate the automisation of the skin transplant process.
The device, which includes a computer and a printing module, provides each of the various components that make up the skin - cells, proteins and the structures that produce tissue - via a series of syringes, according to Lorcano. The finished product replicates the natural structure of the skin, with the deep-lying dermis level, the epidermis, and the outer layer. The dermis is capable of producing collagen, the protein that provides elasticity and resistence.
The team of researchers are drawn from the Universidad Carlos III, the Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas (CIEMAT) and the Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón.