TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A team led by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute announced they have successfully 3D-printed hair follicles in human skin tissue cultured in a laboratory. The advancement marks the first time that the technology has been used for hair follicle generation.

According to the team, their work has potential applications in regenerative medicine and dermatological testing, as hair follicles are integral to skin function and healing, while also being an entry point for topical drugs and cosmetics. The team’s finding was published in the journal “Science Advances”.

“Our work is a proof-of-concept that hair follicle structures can be created in a highly precise, reproducible way using 3D-bioprinting. This kind of automated process is needed to make future biomanufacturing of skin possible,” said Pankaj Karande, Ph.D., an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering and leader of the study. “The reconstruction of hair follicles using human-derived cells has historically been a challenge. Some studies have shown that if these cells are cultured in a three-dimensional environment, they can potentially originate new hair follicles or hair shafts, and our study builds on this work”

The researchers used techniques adapted for 3D-printing at the cellular level, combining skin cells and follicle cells with proteins and other materials to create a “bio-ink” which is used by the printer. The printer then builds skin layer by layer and creates channels for depositing hair cells, which skin cells eventually migrate to, simulating the function of real skin.

“Dr. Karande’s work is a great example of advances being made by RPI researchers at the interface of engineering and life sciences with impact on human health,” said Shekhar Garde, Ph.D., dean of Rensselaer’s School of Engineering. “Bringing multichannel 3-D printing to biological realm is opening exciting opportunities that would have been hard to imagine in the past.”