Researchers from Columbia University in New York City have developed a method of growing engineered human skin grafts in complex, three-dimensional shapes. This technology could be used to construct a seamless “glove” of skin cells to slip onto a burn patient’s hand, they write.
Their findings were published in Science Advances.
“Three-dimensional skin constructs that can be transplanted as ‘biological clothing’ would have many advantages,” said lead developer Hasan Erbil Abaci, PhD, in a press release.
“They would dramatically minimize the need for suturing, reduce the length of surgeries, and improve aesthetic outcomes.”
Dr. Abaci is an assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The current study also revealed that the continuous 3D grafts have better mechanical and functional properties than conventional, pieced-together grafts.
According to the release, the new process begins with a 3D laser scan of the target structure, such as a human hand. Next, a hollow, permeable model of the hand is crafted using computer-aided design and 3D printing. The exterior of the model is then seeded with skin fibroblasts and collagen. Finally, the outside of the mould is coated with a mixture of keratinocytes and the inside is perfused with growth media, which support and nourish the developing graft.
Except for the 3D scaffold, the researchers employed the same procedures used to make traditional flat engineered skin. The entire process took the same time as producing a flat graft, about three weeks.
The research group has tested the 3D engineered skin by grafting a construct of human skin cells onto the hind limbs of mice.
“It was like putting a pair of shorts on the mice,” Dr. Abaci said, “The entire surgery took about 10 minutes.” Four weeks later, the grafts had completely integrated with the surrounding mouse skin, and the mice reacquired full functions of the limb.
Because mouse skin heals differently than human skin, the researchers plan to test the grafts on larger animals with skin biology that more closely matches that of humans. Clinical trials on humans are likely years away, they write.