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SDU intensifies its research in artificial skin

Researchers want to develop and 3D print skin for humans. The Novo Nordisk Foundation provides DKK 15 million for a new research project.

By Birgitte Svennevig, , 3/10/2020


Learning how to synthesize artificial human skin and other organs is one of the greatest challenges, faced by science today. The benefits are many and include better treatment of wounds, pharmaceutical research without animal testing and more effective research into a number of diseases.

The field is still in its infancy, and with a grant of DKK 15 mio DKK from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, Associate Professor Jonathan Brewer and Assistant Professor Kedar Natarajan, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, now join the race to develop and 3D-print skin for humans.

Brewer and Natarajan are part of a research group which for this project also includes Professor Jörg P. Kutter from KU and Associate Professor Jakub Szedinski from KU and DanStem.

Too easy to rip apart

All over the world, labs are working hard in their efforts to synthesize artificial human skin - and several scientists have actually succeeded in synthesizing something that resembles human skin.

But according to Jonathan Brewer, there is still no perfect recipe for artificial human skin. There is still a long way to go before artificial skin has the same qualities as real human skin.

- Take for example the robustness and elasticity. Artificial skin is very fragile and too easy to tear, compared to real skin, he says.

We all have our own skin tone, and it is important to be able to recreate that particular skin tone Another challenge is the appearance of the artificial skin.

Jonathan Brewer, biophysicist

- Today all artificial skin looks the same - solid white. But we all have our own skin tone, and it is important to be able to recreate that particular skin tone. The goal must be to give the individual patient a skin transplant that matches the patient's own skin.

Brewer and his colleagues have several goals in this research project. They are interested in the basic research aspects and plan to examine the mechanical properties of the skin; how do the different skin layers react to different stimuli?

Fewer animal tests

Such experiments can supply them with valuable knowledge that may be used to create new and better types of artificial human skin.

Another goal is to become able to print skin with variations. Maybe one researcher is interested in adding cancer cells during printing. Maybe another researcher wants to add hair follicles in order to study hair formation and growth.

- I expect that the pharmaceutical industry can avoid a lot of animal testing when this becomes possible, said Jonathan Brewer.

Storing artificial skin in hospitals

The prospects of developing individually synthesized artificial skin for patients are great, but that does not mean that all research resources should be spent on that one target, says Jonathan Brewer.

Right now, for example, it takes three weeks to grow skin for a burn patient. 

Alternatively, Brewer suggests investigating the possibility of developing a series of standard skin types to be stored and ready for use in hospitals.

Will the body reject artificial skin?

It is too early however to say whether this is at all possible, but it will be of great importance - also when it comes to the development of other artificial organs.

- This can be a realistic goal if we also direct resources into finding methods that allow these standard skin types to be accepted by the patient's body.

- At the moment, this a big challenge but I believe it is a challenge that can be solved, says Jonathan Brewer.

The project title is Multiscale approach to engineer 3D bio-printed physiological human skin for use in basic and applied research .

Meet the researcher

Jonathan Brewer is a biophysicist, associate professor and principle investigator at Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

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