Among its various vital functions, our skin possesses incredible self–regenerating properties. But our ability to heal wounds is not perfect and can lead to the formation of scars. Skin grafts using donor tissues currently remain the most effective treatment for large wounds, such as those caused by burns – but these come with risks and limitations.
Scientists are now turning their attention to engineered skin substitutes impregnated with living cells as a promising alternative to conventional grafts. Developing these advanced 3D skin models also offer a multitude of other potential applications across the biomedicine, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.
Novel 3D bioprinting technologies, which can precisely pattern the position of living cells, molecules and biomaterials to mimic the complex architecture of natural tissue, offer exciting new opportunities for the development of advanced cell models.
But despite its huge potential, a critical challenge for the success of this innovative technique lies in the development of bioink formulations with suitable printability and bioactive properties.
Current 3D bioprinting approaches rely on depositing highly viscous cell solutions through tiny nozzles, which can result in mechanical stresses that can damage cells. After bioprinting, the printed material must then undergo a cross-linking treatment to form a scaffold-like structure that can support cell growth.
In a new study, scientists test the potential of a natural polysaccharide-based bioink formulation for the 3D bioprinting of an in vitro human skin model.1
The researchers optimised a formulation combining the outstanding viscoelastic behaviour of nanofibrillated cellulose with the fast cross-linking ability of alginate and carboxymethyl cellulose. They incorporated human fibroblasts, which are an abundant type of cell within the dermis layer of the skin that play a key role in the wound healing process.
They used this cell-laden bioink to print self–supportive 3D scaffolds in a layer-by-layer fashion. They then cross-linked these using calcium chloride solution, which they prepared using ultrapure water from an ELGA PURELAB® laboratory purification water system to minimise the risk of introducing contaminants.
The researchers found that the bioink enabled the construction of 3D scaffolds with high cell density and even distribution. They then went on to show that these maintained their shape and size and supported skin cell viability and growth for up to 29 days of laboratory culture.
The results demonstrate that this formulation has extraordinary printability and can create complex 3D skin constructs that can provide human skin cells with surroundings resembling their natural environment, making it a promising new tool for skin tissue engineering and drug testing applications.
Further optimisation of this platform may lead to the construction of more complex models, such as by incorporating more cell types or additional layers.
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1. Zidaric T, et al. Polysaccharide–Based Bioink Formulation for 3D Bioprinting of an In Vitro Model of the Human Dermis. Nanomaterials (2020):10;733
Dr Alison Halliday
After completing an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry & Genetics at Sheffield University, Alison was awarded a PhD in Human Molecular Genetics at the University of Newcastle. She carried out five years as a Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UCL, investigating the genes involved in childhood obesity syndrome. Moving into science communications, she spent ten years at Cancer Research UK engaging the public about the charity’s work. She now specialises in writing about research across the life sciences, medicine and health.