Just as medical applications for standard 3D printing are on the rise, so too are the hopes for usable
3D bioprinted tissue. But 3D printing living tissue is a lore more complex than most people realize,
especially when it comes to the complex structures of human organs.
Progress has certainly been made, but printing viable tissue is still a tricky process that researchers
have yet to crack. While most bioprinting research has typically been focused on medical and organ
printing technology, recently cosmetic companies have begun to heavily invest in 3D printed skin in a
big way in ever increasing numbers.
It started last April when global cosmetics manufacturer L’Oréal teamed up with Organovo to combine their
resources to develop 3D bioprinted simulated human skin. The deal includes product exclusivity if the
partnership is successful in developing viable tissue.
The research will incorporate the NovoGen Bioprinter developed by Organovo and L’Oréal will contribute
their own extensive skill cell research and technology. Procter & Gamble jumped into it only a month later
by announcing that they were teaming up with the Singaporean government’s Agency for Science, Technology &
Research to offer scientists part of a $44 million research program.
The focus of the program is on bioprinted skin tissue and developing commercial applications for the technology.
Things got serious when the world’s largest chemical manufacturer, BASF, announced that they were working
with rapidly growing French startup Poietis to test and develop bioactive materials that they can use to test
cosmetics and skin care applications. The partnership will include letting Poietis use the BASF-developed
Mimeskin material that they’ve already created on their own. Mimeskin is, of course, the closest that anyone
has ever gotten to simulating human skin, and further development could mean a breakthrough that the entire
cosmetics industry has been waiting for.
“We are extremely pleased about this collaboration. Having long-term expertise in solutions for the dermocosmetics
market, BASF understands the benefits of 3D laser-assisted bioprinting compared to conventional cell culture
technologies and other bioprinting methods,” said Founder and President of Poietis Dr Fabien Guillemot.
But despite the promises being made by these new partnerships, bioprinting experts are urging them to be cautious,
and warning that 3D printing living tissue isn’t as easy as 3D printing plastic objects.
Arnold Bos at Lux Research warns that cosmetics firms may not be equipped to totally understand the complex
biology of human skin. If the researchers working on 3D bioprinted skin don’t take their time they could end up
making costly errors, ruin or invalidate all of their research or even provide false or misleading test results.
Skin is a remarkably complicated organ, and is made up of more than just the basic skin cells that most researchers use.
There are multiple cellular structures within human skin, so everything from the atmosphere acidity or the temperature can
alter the printed skin’s viability and cast doubts on any tested chemicals or cosmetics. Bos suggests that standards for
bioprinted skin need to be put in place, and the industry should work closely with industry regulators and medical experts to
create a set of 3D bioprinting guidelines that provide clarity to what is and is not viable tissue.
“The 3D technology out there for plastics can also be used for bio-printing but if you get anything wrong on the cell, if anything
changes in the process of printing it may be hard to detect or indeed rectify,” Bos told Cosmetics Design Asia.
It is also worth noting however that if these cosmetic companies are successful, their research could lead to dozens of amazing
applications that could dramatically alter the entire industry and beyond. Not only would animal testing be virtually eliminated,
but they could 3D bioprint multiple skin types, from dry to oily to combination skin types which would provide much more data
on how the cosmetics being tested will work on real human skin.
Cosmetic companies could 3D bioprint different skin types and textures found on different parts of the human body, from eyelids
to elbows. They could even print user-specific skin cells so people can create cosmetics custom suited to their skin types and needs.