3D-printed Living Skin With Blood Vessels Created by Scientists

Scientists have created 3D-printed skin complete with blood vessels, in an advancement which they hope could one day prevent the body rejecting grafted tissue.

The team of researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and Yale School of Medicine combined cells found in human blood vessels with other ingredients including animal collagen, and printed a skin-like material. After a few weeks, the cells started to form into vasculature. The skin was then grafted onto a mouse, and was found to connect with the animal's vessels.

Pankaj Karande, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer who led the research, said in a statement: "That's extremely important, because we know there is actually a transfer of blood and nutrients to the graft which is keeping the graft alive."

Karande explained: "Right now, whatever is available as a clinical product is more like a fancy Band-Aid. It provides some accelerated wound healing, but eventually it just falls off; it never really integrates with the host cells."

The work published in the journal Tissue Engineering Part A comes after Karande's team previously showed human cells could be used to print a material similar to the skin.

Next, the team will look into editing the skin cells using CRISPR technology, so they match up with the recipient's and are less likely to be rejected by their body. Karande hopes the technology will soon help people with pressure ulcers, or diabetics whose wounds can heal slowly.

"For those patients, these would be perfect, because ulcers usually appear at distinct locations on the body and can be addressed with smaller pieces of skin," he said.

Deepak Vashishth, the director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute commented in a statement: "This significant development highlights the vast potential of 3D bioprinting in precision medicine, where solutions can be tailored to specific situations and eventually to individuals."

The skin is the latest medical advancement made possible by 3D printing technology. In May, a separate team of scientists brought the prospect of 3D-printed internal organs a step closer, by creating a complex tangle of vessels in a lung-like structure.

Kelly Stevens, an assistant professor at the University of Washington who co-authored the paper published in Science, explained to Newsweek at the time: "The body contains various networks of 'pipes' that bring nutrients to, and remove waste from, the organs in our body.

"Many of these pipe networks in the body are entangled, so they have been very hard for scientists to replicate by 3D printing. This new method allows us to create multiple entangled networks of pipes in 3D-printed tissues. We were surprised to see how structurally complex of features we could print with this new method," said Stevens.

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A stock image shows a close-up of the skin on a hand. Scientists have created 3D-printed skin. Getty