Taking a giant step in growing artificial tissue, scientists have devised a fully automated process, which could revolutionise the production of the non-natural skin.
Making use of such skin produced in the laboratory medical scientists can perform transplants more efficiently and that without taking much time.
The artificial tissue is also suitable for testing chemicals at a low cost without requiring animal experiments.
Skin transplantation is a painstaking task, and a transplant that has to cover large areas often requires several operations. And thus, scientists have been trying for a long time to grow artificial tissue
Already, tissues such as cartilage or skin are being cultured in numerous biotechnology laboratories.
But now, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart are aiming to enable fully automated tissue production.
"Until now, methods of culturing tissue like that used for skin transplants have been very expensive. Most of the steps are carried out manually, which means that the process is not particularly efficient," said IGB head of department Professor Heike Mertsching.
Thus, the researchers have elaborated a novel conceptual design in collaboration with colleagues from the Fraunhofer Institutes for Production Technology IPT, Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA, and Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI.
In the process, first a biopsy - that is, a sample of human tissue - is checked for sterility. A gripper arm then transports the biopsy into the automated device where the individual steps are performed: The machine cuts the biopsy into small pieces, isolates the different cell types, stimulates their growth, and mixes the skin cells with collagen.
A three-dimensional reconstruction of the different skin layers is produced with the aid of a special gel matrix - and the skin is ready. In the final step, the machine packages the cells for shipment.
Alternatively, the tissue can be cryopreserved - that is, deep-frozen and stored for later use.
"It was important for us that the entire mechanical process is divided into separate modules. This enables us to replace or modify individual modules, depending what is needed for the production of different tissue types," said Mertsching.
The method has paved the way for almost unlimited new possibilities for the medical scientists.
In an upcoming project, the scientists are planning to produce intestinal tissue for resorption tests.