It would seem that an end to animal testing by cosmetic companies is in our sights, as French cosmetics giant L’Oreal announces plans to 3D Print human skin. What comes as news to many is that the company has actually been in the business of growing human skin since the early ’80s, and a new partnership with Organovo is only the latest step to fast-track the production of skin samples for cosmetic testing.
L’Oreal runs a lab out of Lyon, France where they currently grow human skin from incubated cells that were donated by surgical patients. Called Episkin, the skin ‘product’ is patented and often sold to other pharmacology and cosmetic companies. L’Oreal grows the skin cells in collagen, then artificially exposes them to air and UV light to replicate aging. The goal is to create unique samples to help the company accurately predict how different types of skin react to their products.
The process requires 60 scientists to develop 100,000 samples in a year. They cultivate them to mimic nine varieties of age and ethnicity so the company can optimize their products for specific skin types. It’s pretty expensive, costing around $70 per sample.
A Partnership on the Move
The new collaboration with Organovo, a bioprinting company based in San Diego, will hopefully help expedite the production of epidermis and eventually reduce cost. The 3D bioprinters will print small skin samples into nickel-sized petri dishes on an assembly line, allowing L’Oreal to do even more accurate testing with more ‘test subjects.’
"Some of the biggest potential advantages are the speed of production as well as the level of precision that 3-D printing can achieve," said Guive Balooch, global vice president of L'Oreal's technology incubator. "L’Oreal’s focus right now is not to increase the quantity of skin we produce but instead to continue to build on the accuracy and consistent replication of the skin engineering process."
The new technology will do more than improve cosmetic testing and all but eliminate the need for animal testing—it will also make strides in the medical field, such as burn care. Traditionally, skin grafts are made by applying a small section of healthy skin over the burn and letting it grow over the injury. For large burns, it’s not practical to take large amounts of skin from another part of the body to make a graft. If researchers at the Wake Forest Institute can accurately produce the cell structure of human skin, they could reproduce a patient’s skin using a sample 1/10th the size of the burn.
Organovo appears to be a bioprinting company to watch, as it has also recently partnered with Merck to 3D print liver tissue to test drugs. Eventually, the company plans to develop fully functioning organs. If it works well, the technology may also herald an end to animal testing for pharmaceutical companies as well.
Balooch for one, is incredibly excited about the potential of the technology, calling it “boundless.”