Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute scientists have made history by developing a way to 3D print living skin, complete with blood vessels.
According to the scientists – who worked in tandem with the Yale School of Medicine, the advancement heralds a more promising way of 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,” explains team lead and Rensselaer professor, Pankaj Karande.
“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 skin grafts.
Karande has been working on this challenge for several years. His latest research shows that if they add key elements – like 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.
Once the Yale team grafted the skin onto a special type of mouse, the vessels from the skin printed by the Rensselaer team began to communicate and connect with the mouse’s own vessels.
“That’s extremely important, because we know there is actually a transfer of blood and nutrients to the graft which is keeping the graft alive,” notes Karande.
In order to make this usable at a clinical level, researchers will have to be able to edit the donor cells using something like the CRISPR technology, so that the vessels can integrate and be accepted by the patient’s body.
The grafts created by the Rensselaer team helps bring researchers closer to helping people with more discrete issues, like diabetic or pressure ulcers.
“Wound healing typically takes longer in diabetic patients, and this could also help to accelerate that process,” notes Karande.
Image and content: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute