Cosmetics company L’Oreal has teamed up with bio-printing group Organovo to produce 3D printed skin. The project, which is in the early stages of research, centres around the industrial production of human skin cells.

3D printing skin cells would be faster than growing them; a method previously favoured by L’Oreal. The French company already grows skin cells donated from plastic surgery patients for testing and has collected samples from different ages and ethnicities.

Speed and precision are what Guive Balooch, the global vice president of L’Oreal’s technology incubator, wants from the project. He aims for improvements on the production and composition of skin not only for the cosmetics industry, but for the skin engineering field as a whole. Synthetic skin products, used in place of animal skin for cosmetic product testing, could even “save thousands of rabbits each year from painful skin corrosion and irritation tests”, according to the Humane Society.

The use of skin substitutes dates back to the 15th Century, and the clinical use of skin grafts is mentioned in the Branca of Sicily. According to an article in the Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery, “at present, there is no ideal substitute in the market.”

There are two types of artificial skin: synthetic and biological. Biological skin has a base membrane and is more natural, although the process of creation is slower and less controlled than synthetic scaffold composition.

Organovo’s method of skin printing does not use scaffolds, which are usually necessary for any bio-printing project. Most processes include layering cells on top of moulds of hydrogel to create structured tissues. Working without scaffolds, however, cuts production time.

Skin is not the only product of Organovo. Keith Murphy, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Organovo, unveiled a breakthrough product in April: printed human kidney tissue in vitro that was functional and alive. The kidney tissue is a small step in a large movement to 3D print whole organs and complex body parts that were once only available through donor patients.

Although not commercially available yet, 3D printed skin is expected to be used for product testing, disease modelling, and cosmetic surgery. Patients, such as burn victims, could use synthetic skin to repair damaged body parts. Currently, patients have to wait for a donor with the right combination of cells for a transplant, but—with 3D printed tissues—matching cells are available much faster, cheaper, and efficiently.

L’Oreal aims to complete automated skin production by the year 2020.

 – Aitana Yvette Mallari, Correspondent (Tech)

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