A team of bioengineers from Columbia University has found a way to grow human skin grafts in any shape. A demonstration of how the future work of surgeons applying new skin to burn victims can be made easier.
What is it for?
Currently, synthetic leather comes in the form of sheets, similar to wrapping paper. And it's not easy to put them around uneven body parts like hands or feet - it takes a lot of time and effort.
So engineering skin cells into complex, three-dimensional shapes is a revolutionary first step. The lead author of the research (that I link to you here), Hasan Erbil Abaci, these "three-dimensional skin constructs" can be used as real "biological clothing". They will reduce the need for sutures and the duration of surgeries, while improving the aesthetic results.
And not only
Research has shown that these new 3D grafts also have superior mechanical and functional properties over conventional grafts. More complex shapes favor its resistance. Therefore, the authors of the study believe that in the future, this technique will be ideal for face transplants.
How the creation of grafts in 3D works
Creating new skin grafts begins with a laser 3D scan of the "target" structure: a hand, for example.
Subsequently, a hollow model of the hand is designed and 3D printed: skin fibroblasts that generate connective tissue and collagen are placed on its surface. Finally, the model is covered with keratinocytes on the surface, and perfused with growth factors internally to nourish and support the graft as it grows. The whole process is completed in 3 weeks.
Experimental trials of these grafts have been successfully applied on the hind legs of mice. It was like "putting them a pair of shorts," the researchers say.
The whole process took just 10 minutes: after four weeks the grafts were perfectly integrated with the skin of the mice, which regained full control of their paws.
"Made-to-measure" grafts: in conclusion
Studies will still be needed, as the skin of mice heals differently than human skin.
Eventually, though, Abaci expects the grafts will be custom-made from the patient's own cells. With a small 4mm x 4mm skin sample, it will be possible to grow and multiply enough cells to create enough skin to cover a human hand.