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We Can Print Human Skin Now

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This may be technology at its coolest. Or grossest. Or both. We’d say both. Scientists in Madrid have figured out a way to produce functional sheets of human skin using a 3D printer. They published their results in the journal Biofabrication.

Scientists have really seized 3D printing as a solution to all kinds of problems. In the last few years, they’ve developed techniques for printing cardiac stents, artificial rat models to spare real rats from dissection—even human jawbones and ears. Other researchers have been hard at work growing human skin in the laboratory.

The team in Madrid decided to put the two concepts together. As you can imagine, this was not a simple matter of loading up the ink and hitting a button. The team built a brand-new type of bioprinter that uses human plasma as a medium, or scaffolding.

Co-author Juan Francisco del Cañizo is a surgeon at Madrid’s Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón. He said it was tricky to create an automated process that could create a friendly environment for skin to grow. “Knowing how to mix the biological components, in what conditions to work with them so that the cells don’t deteriorate, and how to correctly deposit the product is critical to the system,” he told The Independent.

The printed skin includes the same functional layers as the home-grown variety: a tough, epidermis-like outer layer; a thick middle layer; and a layer of collagen-producing cells to make the skin stretchy and strong.

The research team believes their new skin printer has huge potential for helping burn patients and other people who need skin grafts. The printer could include the patients' own cells in the plasma medium, which would significantly decrease the odds that their bodies would reject the new skin.

Animal advocates see the skin as a chance to put an end to cosmetic companies’ animal testing, which currently relies on rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, and dogs as surrogates for human skin.

A bioengineering firm called the BioDan Group has already expressed an interest in mass-producing the skin printers.

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Medicine
New Cancer-Fighting Nanobots Can Track Down Tumors and Cut Off Their Blood Supply
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Scientists have developed a new way to cut off the blood flow to cancerous tumors, causing them to eventually shrivel up and die. As Business Insider reports, the new treatment uses a design inspired by origami to infiltrate crucial blood vessels while leaving the rest of the body unharmed.

A team of molecular chemists from Arizona State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences describe their method in the journal Nature Biotechnology. First, they constructed robots that are 1000 times smaller than a human hair from strands of DNA. These tiny devices contain enzymes called thrombin that encourage blood clotting, and they're rolled up tightly enough to keep the substance contained.

Next, researchers injected the robots into the bloodstreams of mice and small pigs sick with different types of cancer. The DNA sought the tumor in the body while leaving healthy cells alone. The robot knew when it reached the tumor and responded by unfurling and releasing the thrombin into the blood vessel that fed it. A clot started to form, eventually blocking off the tumor's blood supply and causing the cancerous tissues to die.

The treatment has been tested on dozen of animals with breast, lung, skin, and ovarian cancers. In mice, the average life expectancy doubled, and in three of the skin cancer cases tumors regressed completely.

Researchers are optimistic about the therapy's effectiveness on cancers throughout the body. There's not much variation between the blood vessels that supply tumors, whether they're in an ovary in or a prostate. So if triggering a blood clot causes one type of tumor to waste away, the same method holds promise for other cancers.

But before the scientists think too far ahead, they'll need to test the treatments on human patients. Nanobots have been an appealing cancer-fighting option to researchers for years. If effective, the machines can target cancer at the microscopic level without causing harm to healthy cells. But if something goes wrong, the bots could end up attacking the wrong tissue and leave the patient worse off. Study co-author Hao Yan believes this latest method may be the one that gets it right. He said in a statement, "I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology."

[h/t Business Insider]

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Medicine
New Peanut Allergy Patch Could Be Coming to Pharmacies This Year
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About 6 million people in the U.S. and Europe have severe peanut allergies, including more than 2 million children. Now, French biotechnology company DBV Technologies SA has secured an FDA review for its peanut allergy patch, Bloomberg reports.

If approved, the company aims to start selling the Viaskin patch to children afflicted with peanut allergies in the second half of 2018. The FDA's decision comes in spite of the patch's disappointing study results last year, which found the product to be less effective than DBV hoped (though it did receive high marks for safety). The FDA has also granted Viaskin breakthrough-therapy and fast-track designations, which means a faster review process.

DBV's potentially life-saving product is a small disc that is placed on the arm or between the shoulder blades. It works like a vaccine, exposing the wearer's immune system to micro-doses of peanut protein to increase tolerance. It's intended to reduce the chances of having a severe allergic reaction to accidental exposure.

The patch might have competition: Aimmune Therapeutics Inc., which specializes in food allergy treatments, and the drug company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are working together to develop a cure for peanut allergies.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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