Researchers at the Carlos III University in Madrid announced the availability of a 3D printer that can print fully functional skin. It is described in a paper on IOP Science.
It is not the first printer printing skin, actually it is now a few years that printers are being used to print skin out of an ink made of skin cells. One of the first printers to print skin, that I remember, was an inkjet printer, back in 2010.
What's new is the capability of printing not just a layer of skin but a 3D tissue with its functional architecture (incorporating sweat cells, touch sensitive cells....and so on).
Human skin consists of two layers embedding different types of cells. The 3D printer uses bio-inks containing human plasma, fibroblast and keratinocytes. These cells are obtained from skin biopsies and are multiplied in vitro. Once sufficient quantity becomes available (it is a matter of 1-2 days since in vitro duplication is fast) the bio-ink is fed to the 3D printer that prints out the skin in the shape desired. The researchers have shown that it is able to print 100 square cm in just over half a hour (the printing is actually taking just 5 minutes the remaining time is for having the cells sticking with one another).
The skin can be used for graft (to cover, as an example a burn) and in that case the cells have to be taken from that patient, or for testing drugs (allogeneic skin). The availability of this latter skin makes possible to avoid using lab animals for testing pharma products. Additionally, it can be produced in large volume and in a standardised way, which is what is needed by the pharma industry. As an additional bonus, it is cheaper than today's methods.
Another interesting application of 3D printing!