Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a way to 3-D 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.”
A significant barrier to that integration has been the absence of a functioning vascular system in the skin grafts.
Karande has been working on this challenge for several years, previously publishing one of the first papers showing that researchers could take two types of living human cells, make them into “bio-inks,” and print them into a skin-like structure. Since then, he and his team have been working with researchers from Yale School of Medicine to incorporate vasculature.
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…