Image by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, claim to have 3D-printed skin that's alive and has blood vessels.

The new technique could greatly accelerate the healing process for patients who require skin grafts, such as burn victims.

"Right now, whatever is available as a clinical product is more like a fancy Band-Aid," lead researcher Pankaj Karande, a chemical engineering professor at the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, said in a statement. "It provides some accelerated wound healing, but eventually it just falls off; it never really integrates with the host cells."

In a paper published in the journal Tissue Engineering Part A on Monday, the researchers detail how they added cells crucial to the development of blood vessels to animal collagen inside a complex network of 3D-printed tissues, which prompted the cells to form a vascular structure within weeks.

"We were pleasantly surprised to find that, once we start approaching [the complexity of recreating biology], biology takes over and starts getting closer and closer to what exists in nature," Karande said.

Their 3D-printed skin even began to connect and communicate with a mouse's blood vessels in an animal trial. But that doesn't mean it's ready for use on human patients on a clinical level just yet. Donor cells would have to be modified using gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR to stop the host's body from rejecting the graft.

Still, it's a clever solution that lets the body do what it does naturally — but with a little help up front.

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