L'Oreal's reasoning is a search for alternates to animal testing, and is an extension of current tissue culture methods that have been in research and development since the 1980s. Furthermore, once a fully automated bioprinting process is introduced it will present a cost efficient alternative to current animal testing practices. Other factors driving the move away from animal testing in the industry as a whole include the European Union's 2013 ban on cosmetic ingredients that have been animal-tested.
Current tissue culture techniques include incubating donated skin and growing new cells from these samples. However, this presents a substantially extended production period, and is where bioprinting offers the greatest improvement. The  Organovo process centers on generating and dispensing multi-cellular building blocks that are deposited on a hydrogel substrate in sequential layers to form a 3D structure. The cells are grown from biopsies or stem cells, loaded into containers by cell type, and dispensed in a printer fashion into multi-well plates. This can be done for multiple tissue types with the use of voids and fillers to mimic the native structure. After the initial process the tissue is further conditioned in bioreactors where it fuses and organizes into a functioning system.

Although human skin is certainly a concern for the cosmetics industry as well as the medical industry when it comes to skin grafts for severe burn cases, it's really the generation of full organ systems that has sparked innovation. Two of the main targets under consideration are the liver and kidney systems. This is driven by organ transplant needs where kidneys account for 80% of the cases and many patients are not able to find a suitable donor in time.

As Jennifer Lewis, professor of biologically inspired engineering at Harvard, presented at the MIT Technology Review's EmTech Conference it is blood vessels that play the crucial role in this developing technology. Her group has made headway formulating native structures in kidneys called nephrons and is pioneering blood vessel printing techniques. Their new process allows for tunnels within tissues that are lined with blood vessel cells. This same technique is also used to make the tubes within kidneys that enable the filtration of blood.

The long goal may be fully functional organ replacements, but the focus of the current work is the investigation of drug effects in chronic and acute settings by drug companies as well as basic research by universities. Organova has also centered their efforts on the drug development market [ref-]  as have a number of other companies within the biomedicine arena such as Cyfus Biomedical, Rainbow Biosciences, and Bio 3D Technologies.

3D bioprinting is in no way limited to animal cells for medical applications as a team from the Carl Gustav Carus of Technische Universität Dresden recently demonstrated with microalgae in March. The microalgae was printed using similar methods to mammalian cells on alginate based scaffolds and was observed to grow in a hydrogel matrix. The application of this technique is a coculture system composed of mammalian cells and microalgae which can be used to deliver oxygen or secondary metabolites as therapeutic agents in drug delivery studies.

The key component is of coarse regulatory approval for this and any other cutting edge technology before wide spread acceptance can be contemplated. But, in term of efficiencies and range of applications bioprinting presents unparalleled opportunities.

Image courtesy of Organovo.
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Martin Przeworski

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