3D-Printing of Living Skin with Blood Vessels Made Possible by Biomedical Engineers
Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have now developed a way to 3D print living skin, complete with blood vessels. The advancement, published in Tissue Engineering Part A, is a significant step toward creating skin grafts that are more like the skin our body produces naturally.
Pankaj Karande, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering & a member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS), who led this research at Rensselaer, said whatever is available as a clinical product is more like a fancy Band-Aid. This provides some accelerated wound healing, but eventually, it just falls off; it never really integrates with our host cells.
A significant barrier to that integration with the host cells has been the absence of a functioning vascular system in the skin grafts.
Pankaj Karande has been working on this integration challenge for several years, previously publishing one of the first papers showing that scientists could take 2 types of living human cells, make them into “bio-inks,” & print them into a skin-like structure. Since then, he & his research team has been working with scientists from Yale School of Medicine to incorporate vasculature.
In this study paper, the scientists show that if they add key elements — including human endothelial cells, which line the inside of blood vessels & human pericyte cells, which wrap around the endothelial cells — with animal collagen and other structural cells typically found in a skin graft, the cells start communicating and forming a biologically relevant vascular structure within the span of a few weeks.
Watch Pankaj Karande explain this development:
He said As engineers working to recreate biology, he and his team always appreciated and been aware of the fact that biology is far more complex than the simple systems they make in the laboratory. He added they were surprised to find that, once the team starts approaching that complexity, biology takes over & starts getting closer and closer to what exists in nature.
Once the Yale research team grafted it onto a special type of mouse, the vessels from the skin printed by the Rensselaer research team began to communicate and connect with the mouse’s own vessels.
Karande added that it is extremely important because they know there is actually a transfer of blood and nutrients to the graft which is keeping the graft alive.
In order to make this usable at a clinical level, scientists need to be able to edit the donor cells using something like the CRISPR technology, so that the vessels can integrate and be accepted by the patient’s body.
Karande said he and his team is still not at that step, but they are one step closer.
Deepak Vashishth, the director CBIS said this significant development highlights the vast potential of 3D bioprinting in precision medicine, where solutions can be tailored to specific situations & eventually to individuals. He added this is a perfect example of how engineers at Rensselaer are solving challenges related to human health.
Karande added more work will need to be done to address the challenges associated with burn patients, which include the loss of nerve & vascular endings. But the grafts his research team has created bring researchers closer to helping people with more discrete issues, like diabetic or pressure ulcers.
Karande said for those patients, these would be perfect because ulcers usually appear at distinct locations on the body and it can be addressed with smaller pieces of skin. Wound healing typically takes longer in diabetic patients, and this could also help to accelerate that process.
At Rensselaer, Karande’s research team also includes Carolina Catarino, a doctoral student in chemical & biological engineering. The Yale researcher team includes Tania Baltazar, a postdoctoral researcher who previously worked on this project at Rensselaer; Dr. Jordan Pober, a professor of immunobiology & Mark Saltzman, a professor of biomedical engineering.
This study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
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