A team of scientists from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has achieved a remarkable breakthrough in the field of regenerative medicine and drug testing. For the first time, they have successfully 3D-printed hair follicles in human skin tissue cultivated in the laboratory. This pioneering technique holds immense potential for engineering skin grafts and advancing dermatological research.
The study, published in the journal Science Advances, focuses on the significance of hair follicles in skin healing and function. While hair may initially seem inconsequential in the engineering of human skin, hair follicles play crucial roles in maintaining body temperature through sweat production and housing stem cells that aid in skin regeneration.
The ability to create hair follicle structures using 3D bioprinting is a significant milestone in the field of regenerative medicine. The researchers’ work serves as a proof-of-concept that automated processes can be employed to biomanufacture skin, paving the way for future advancements. Cultivating human-derived cells in a three-dimensional environment has shown promise in generating new hair follicles and hair shafts, thereby enhancing the potential for successful skin grafts.
Hair follicles serve as entry points for topical drugs and cosmetics, making them crucial in dermatological testing. Currently, safety testing is conducted on engineered skin tissues lacking hair follicles. By introducing hair follicles into contemporary skin models, researchers can gain deeper insights into how the skin interacts with topical products. This increased complexity in engineered skin structures will facilitate the development and testing of more effective treatments for various skin conditions.
The team utilised 3D-printing techniques adapted for cellular-level printing. The process began by culturing skin and follicle cells in the laboratory until a sufficient quantity of printable cells was obtained. These cells were then mixed with proteins and other materials to create a specialized “bio-ink” for the printer. Employing an ultra-thin needle, the printer deposited the bio-ink layer by layer, simultaneously creating channels for hair cell placement. Over time, the skin cells migrated to these channels, replicating the natural follicle structures found in real skin.
While the successful 3D-printing of hair follicles represents a significant advancement, the engineering of skin grafts capable of growing hair is still several years away. Nevertheless, the researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute continue to push the boundaries of skin tissue engineering. Their previous accomplishments include printing skin with functional blood vessels, highlighting their dedication to developing better treatments for burns and other skin conditions.