Engineers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, NY and the Yale School of Medicine have incorporated blood vessels into 3D printed skin by creating bioinks made from animal collagen and adding endothelial cells which line the inside of blood vessels, and human pericyte cells that wrap around the endothelial cells. When the cells were printed into skin grafts they started to interconnect, and after just a few weeks they developed vasculature structures. This is significant because whilst 3D bio-printed skin is not new, the challenge has always been how to create it with the complex blood vessel systems needed to facilitate skin grafts integrating with the body. If engineers and researchers find a way to edit the donor cells, perhaps with the help of the CRISPR gene-editing tool, so that the vessels can integrate and not be rejected by the human body, this technology has the potential to be used in a clinical setting, and could eventually be used in the future to facilitate the development of custom grafts for things like burns and ulcers.
“Advanced bio-printed skin grafts on the cards“
Research lead Pankaj Karande, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer, said: “As engineers working to recreate biology, we’ve always appreciated and been aware of the fact that biology is far more complex than the simple systems we make in the lab. We were pleasantly surprised to find that, once we start approaching that complexity, biology takes over and starts getting closer and closer to what exists in nature. Right now, whatever is available as a clinical product is more like a fancy band aid. It provides some accelerated wound healing, but eventually it just falls off. It never really integrates with the host cells.”