Will 3D printed human skin make animal testing for cosmetics obsolete?

It may sound like science fiction but the beauty industry is experiencing a makeover and for the first time it’s not at the expense of animals

Damien Hirst

Back in 2015, L’Oréal announced that it was experimenting with printing human skin tissue on which to test its cosmetics. The French beauty giant – which owns Lancôme and Maybelline, among many others – was the first beauty conglomerate to announce such intentions. The same year, L’Oréal partnered with Organovo, a San Diego-based start-up that designs and creates functional human tissues using bioprinting technology. These 3D printed tissues, which Bloomberg predicts could be a reality by 2020, mimic the form and function of native tissue in the body and testing on them could signal a revolution in the world of cosmetic testing. ‘‘What was once a plot for a science fiction novel is now advancing our scientific research,’’ Taylor Crouch, Organovo’s CEO said to the Financial Times last year.

There are two types of skin tissues that can be created by bioprinting technology, according to Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. One type of skin tissue is developed with an individual’s own cells and it can be used to treat burns or skin conditions that the subject may have. The second is a regular skin formed using a stock of genetic human cells. Here cells are taken from donor organs and plastic surgery leftovers and then turned into a printable bio-ink. It is this second type of tissue that could one day make animal testing obsolete.

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