Replicating living human skin using 3-D bioprinting technology? Yes, it sounds a little creepy, but it’s actually revolutionary, lucrative, and beauty giant L’Oreal agrees – the 3-D process is “worth it.” Scientists and bioengineers all over the world have been researching, developing and utilizing the benefits of 3-D bioprinting technology in everything from bone replication to the reproduction of functional human organs. This process has the potential for remarkable, life changing benefits such as:
- reconstructing burn victim limbs
- building several 3D tissue models for research and drug discovery applications
- creating human tissues for surgical therapy and transplantation.
However, there’s an emerging market in the 3-D bioprinting world – the need for mass replication of human skin tissue for product testing, and beauty companies want “in” on the action. The leader of the movement, so far, is cosmetic powerhouse L’Oreal. The beauty brand is partnering with bioprinting startup Organovo (the first company to commercialize 3-D bioprinting technology) to figure out how to 3-D print living skin that can be used to test cosmetics for efficacy and toxicity.
L’Oreal will use Organovo’s NovoGen Bioprinting technology in its own laboratories where they’ve been growing and analyzing human tissues (to avoid product testing on animals) since the 80’s. In addition, Bloomberg reports that L’Oreal claims not to have tested any of its finished products, or the raw ingredients within them, on animals since 2013.
This partnership will not only speed up the process of human tissue replication and aid in the elimination of animal testing, but according to Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oreal’s tech incubator, “We’re the first beauty company Organovo has worked with.” Keith Murphy, Chairman and CEO at Organovo also stated, “We are excited to be partnering with L’Oreal, whose leadership in the beauty industry is rooted in scientific innovation and a deep commitment to research and development.”
What Exactly is 3-D Bioprinting?
3-D bioprinting has been generating incredible buzz for quite awhile now, especially in the world of printing functional human organs. However, this technology has about 10 years until it can be fully realized due to the complexity of human organ replication and the need for precise 3-D bioprinting technology to accommodate these factors. Contrarily, cosmetic companies will be able to apply this technology much sooner as human skin can be duplicated quicker than say – a human heart. In fact, L’Oreal would like to increase production of its human skin samples within a five-year timeline.
L’Oreal’s current skin-farming technique (located in France) involves breaking down skin tissue into cells, feeding the cells a special diet, and growing them in an environment that mimics the human body (this all takes about a week.) The cells come from tissue donated by plastic surgery patients. L’Oreal creates about 100K skin samples annually and half are used for their own cosmetics research, while the other half are sold to pharmaceutical companies.
Using Organovo’s NovoGen Bioprinting technology, the new 3-D process is far quicker. It initially involves identifying “key architectural elements” of the targeted tissue and then dispenses “bio-ink” into layers of biopaper gel. The tissue is then built in vertical layers (in succession) until the desired skin printing result is achieved. Basically, cosmetic companies can use this technology to print living, breathing 3-D human skin at a much faster rate as opposed to waiting around for the 2-D ones to grow in a lab.
What Does The Future Hold For The Two Powerhouses?
Bloomberg reports that L’Oreal will have exclusive rights to the 3-D printed skin developed with Organovo for uses related to non-prescription skin care products. Organovo will retain rights to the tissue models for efficacy testing of prescription drugs, toxicity tests, and the development and testing of therapeutic or surgically transplanted tissues. “Organovo has broken new ground with 3-D bioprinting, an area that complements L’Oreal’s pioneering work in the research and application of reconstructed skin for the past 30 years,” says Guive Balooch. According to CNN Money, 3-D bioprinting, could be worth $1 billion by 2025.