Researchers from Wake Forest University in North Carolina have innovatively utilized 3D printing technology to craft lab-engineered human skin grafts. These grafts, remarkably, facilitate faster wound healing than traditional methods.
Skin grafts are crucial for individuals undergoing severe burns, ulcers, or post-cancer surgery. Typically, this procedure involves using skin from an undamaged part of the patient’s body to cover the wounded area. However, using skin from the patient or a deceased donor tends to be temporary and can result in unsightly scars.
The breakthrough came from the Wake Forest team, who bioengineered a version of human skin that closely resembles the real thing, aiding in regenerating severely damaged flesh. This groundbreaking skin was 3D printed using specially designed “ink” from human skin cells. Experiments on mice and pigs showed that this bioprinted skin resembled human skin and integrated effectively, forming new blood vessels and aiding in natural regeneration.
Annually, the US sees about 160,000 skin graft procedures. Traditional grafting methods, though widespread, are fraught with challenges, including limited healthy tissue for transplantation, cost implications, and the potential for unattractive scars.
The engineered skin by the Wake Forest team closely mirrors the biological structure of actual human skin. It comprises six critical types of human skin cells, ensuring it functions like its natural counterpart during healing. Notably, past efforts in bioprinting skin were limited as they incorporated only two cell types.
In a comparative study, mice treated with this bioprinted skin saw their wounds heal by day 14. In contrast, those treated conventionally had only 64% of their wounds healed by the same timeframe. Additionally, the new grafts exhibited unique human-like patterns, significantly differing from standard mouse skin’s flat appearance.
Further validation was conducted on pigs. While all treated pigs had their wounds closed by day 28, those with the bioprinted graft experienced epithelialization – a more natural form of healing, reducing risks associated with scarring and mobility restrictions.
Dr. Anthony Atala, a key figure behind this study, emphasized the potential of this advancement, underscoring the vast global demand for effective skin healing solutions. He concluded that the research results confirm the feasibility of producing human-like bioengineered skin that appears more natural and fosters expedited healing.