Synthetic skin to be mass produced for burn victims

December 10th, 2008 - 4:01 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Dec 10 (IANS) A synthetic skin as good as the natural one is likely to be mass produced, thanks to a new technique pioneered by German scientists.The good news is that it will be a boon for burn victims, who require extensive skin grafting to cover damaged parts - a very painful process.

The availability of this “artificial skin” opens up almost unlimited new possibilities for medical scientists. One of their upcoming projects is to produce intestinal tissue for resorption tests.

Tissue engineering has been at the focus of research for many years, and tissues such as cartilage or skin are already being cultured in numerous biotechnology labs.

But researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart plan to go a step further. They are aiming to enable fully automated tissue production.

“Until now, methods of culturing tissue like that used for skin transplants have been very expensive,” said IGB head of department Heike Mertsching, a professor.

“Most of the steps are carried out manually, which means that the process is not particularly efficient.” The researchers have therefore elaborated a novel conceptual design in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institutes for Production Technology IPT, Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA, and Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI.

First of all, 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, said an IGB release.

The machine cuts the biopsy into small pieces, isolates the different cell types, stimulates their growth, and mixes the skin cells with collagen.

A 3-D reconstruction of 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,” said Mertsching.

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