Researchers in Singapore have developed a method that achieves more uniform pigmentation of engineered 3D-printed human skin, according to a study published in the journal Biofabrication.
Bioprinting deposits real human cells on top of a substrate in a controlled manner, and has been used in tissue engineering for about a decade. However, existing ‘human skin equivalents’ lack complex features such as skin pigmentation, sweat glands or hair follicles.
A research team from A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) and the Singapore Centre for 3D Printing (SC3DP) at Nanyang Technological University aimed to improve skin pigmentation uniformity in engineered 3D skin.
They used a two-step process that first involved printing porous fibroblast-laden, collagen-based matrices that closely resemble the skin’s dermal extracellular matrices. This created a microenvironment that facilitates interactions among cells, and between them and other biological materials introduced during the printing process.
They then used a ‘drop on demand’ technique that enabled precise spatial distribution of three types of human skin cells—including keratinocytes, melanocytes and fibroblasts—within the 3D bioprinted skin. Culturing the 3D bioprinted skin under optimal conditions induced the melanin-producing cells, melanocytes, to uniformly pigment it.
“3D bioprinting is an excellent platformfor the precise deposition of biomaterials and living cells to fabricate biomimetic skin in large volumes and with great repeatability,” says SC3DP research fellow Wei Long Ng. “The two-step bioprinting strategy enables the standardised distribution of printed cells in a highly controlled way.”
The printing technique also allowed the researchers to more easily and precisely manipulate pore sizes within the collagen substrate, making its porous structure more closely resemble real skin layers, with large pores at the bottom and smaller ones towards the top.
The team’s method has the potential to produce engineered 3D bioprinted human skin for toxicology testing and fundamental cell biology research.
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