3D Printed Skin as Treatment in Wound Healing and Skin Cancer
Skin, as our most exposed organ, is highly susceptible to damage. Burns, chronic ulcers, and infections can cause irreparable damage. The risk of serious injury due to burns alone ranked fourth worldwide, higher than that of HIV and tuberculosis (TB) combined.1 To heal severe wounds and burns, skin grafts are commonly used. However, the integration of these grafts can be challenging as they often lack the natural components found in skin. 3D printed skin recently has been introduced as an effective and quickly-produced material that can promote the skin’s natural healing process.
Skin grafts can be synthetic or biological, varying in size and thickness. Biological skin grafts are most similar to our skin as these grafts may come from donors or from patients themselves. However, while these may be integrated into the skin layers, they can unfortunately also be rejected by the immune system and thus separate from the wound. On the other hand, synthetic skin grafts can be created as desired but end up being quite different from natural skin as well as expensive to manufacture.
3D printed skin results from printing synthetic skin from “ink” composed of biological materials.2 The ability to arrange cells in a specific 3D pattern along with their corresponding proteins and growth factors makes for a structure closely resembling natural skin.3 Compared to skin grafts, the method of 3D printed skin makes a well-established skin substitute by resembling a more natural skin, covering larger in area, speeding up the healing process and preventing skin scarring.
As the major barrier and defense system of our body, maintaining the functions and components of the skin is essential. One of the biggest threat to our skin is skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in humans.4 Skin cancer can lead to significant wounds which can be difficult and expensive to treat. The number of skin cancer cases have been increasing over the past decades globally, increasing demand for a faster and easier to produce treatment.5
Thus, the future for skin replacement and reconstruction is to make it effective, fast, and accessible. Skin grafts have shown great improvement in healing time and is the most commonly used to treat most types of wounds. However, there are still implications when dealing with skin cancer, major burns, or deep wounds as skin may not fully reconstruct as desired. 3D printing makes the future of skin regeneration possible by incorporating natural components to make a well-constructed skin substitute able to fully integrate and heal at a faster and more efficient way than using skin grafts alone.
- Peck, M. D. (2011). Epidemiology of burns throughout the world. Part I: Distribution and risk factors. Burns, 37 (7), 1087-1100. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.burns.2011.06.005
- Cubo, N., Garcia, M., del Cañizo, J. F., Velasco, D., & Jorcano, J. L. (2016). 3D bioprinting of functional human skin: production and in vivo analysis. Biofabrication, 9(1), 015006.
- Michael, S., Sorg, H., Peck, C. T., Koch, L., Deiwick, A., Chichkov, B., … & Reimers, K. (2013). Tissue engineered skin substitutes created by laser-assisted bioprinting form skin-like structures in the dorsal skin fold chamber in mice. PloS one, 8(3), e57741.
- Wu, S., Han, J., Li, W. Q., Li, T., & Qureshi, A. A. (2013). Basal-cell carcinoma incidence and associated risk factors in US women and men. American journal of epidemiology, 178(6), 890-897.
- Linares, M. A., Zakaria, A., & Nizran, P. (2015). Skin cancer. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice, 42(4), 645-659.