3D printing in manufacturing has changed drastically over the years. In the 1980s, some manufacturers used 3D printing for models and rapid prototyping. Additive manufacturing provided proof of concept, but wasn’t used in the actual production process. Today, a number of manufacturers use 3D printing for final-run production, and many anticipate additive manufacturing to play an even bigger role in the manufacturing process over the next few years. 3D printing benefits more than just the manufacturing industry, however.
The medical field is another industry that benefits from 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Over the years, we’ve seen 3D-printed bones, joints, and even 3D-printed organs. Fully functioning 3D-printed skin is the latest advancement in bioprinting.
What is bioprinting?
Anyone familiar with 3D printers can quickly understand bioprinters. Like other 3D printers, bioprinters creates three-dimensional objects. The main difference between a bioprinter and a standard 3D printer is that bioprinting uses viable, living cells rather than plastic, metals, or other non-biological components. Bioprinters create tissues, organs, or structures using living cells and biological components.
A group of Spanish researchers from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), CIEMAT (Center for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research), Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón, and bioengineering company BioDan Group recently created a prototype for printing living human skin.
The 3D bioprinter can produce fully functioning skin which could be used for surgeries, transplants, and product testing for cosmetics and pharmaceutical drugs. This is the first time that proper human skin has been created using a 3D printer. The skin created using this bioprinter is “indistinguishable” from equivalents made by hand in laboratories.
We don’t normally think of skin as remarkable, but it is. It’s difficult to recreate the complex structure of human skin, and even more difficult to create artificial skin that survives a transplant onto a human body. The bioprinted skin shares the natural structure of human skin with epidermis and dermis layers. This 3D-printed skin uses only human collagen, unlike other types of printed skin that use animal collagen.
Automation is fast and cost-effective
Bioprinting has a number of advantages. Researchers created a 100 x 100 cm section of skin in 35 minutes using the prototype 3D bioprinter. Alfredo Brisac, CEO of BioDan Group, says “This method of bioprinting allows skin to be generated in a standardized, automated way, and the process is less expensive than manual production.” Increased speeds and lower costs are hallmarks of automation.
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