Early efforts to create human skin for grafting, especially onto burn victims, took the form of "spray-on skin" solutions (see Spray-On Skin Heals Ulcers). Science fiction writers had predicted this development a generation ago; see Philip K. Dick's 1960 story Dr. Futurity, and his idea for art-derm. Robert Heinlein wrote in his 1951 novel The Puppet Masters about surrogate skin.
But these alternatives are usually temporary, because they aren't fed from below like your real skin. You need vascularized, that is, skin with blood vessels tied into your circulatory system.
Cue the video.
Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a way to 3D print living skin, complete with blood vessels. The advancement, published online today in Tissue Engineering Part A, is a significant step toward creating grafts that are more like the skin our bodies produce naturally.
“Right now, whatever is available as a clinical product is more like a fancy Band-Aid,” said Pankaj Karande, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering and member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS), who led this research at Rensselaer. “It provides some accelerated wound healing, but eventually it just falls off; it never really integrates with the host cells.”
In this paper, the researchers show that if they add key elements — including human endothelial cells, which line the inside of blood vessels, and 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.
Science fiction fans have been chafing over the relatively slow growth of the artificial skin industry. In Frank Herbert's 1977 novel The Dosadi Experiment, BuSab agent Jorx X. McKie routinely packed some uniflesh, with attached mediskin, for purposes of creating a disguise.
This bioprinter reminds me of what appears to be a similar device from the 1997 movie Starship Troopers, which is loosely based on the 1959 Robert Heinlein novel of the same name.