Production and Functionality of Melanocytes for Use in 3D-Printed Pigment-Capable Skin Tissue

Corinne Nicole Wittmann, University of Texas at El Paso


Skin grafts are used in a variety of medical procedures including burn treatment, skin cancer removal, chronic wound/ulcer treatment, skin infections and diseases, large wound closure and in elective plastic surgeries. Ideally, skin grafts are harvested directly from the patient. However, in some cases, direct harvesting of skin grafts is not possible. In these situations, an equivalent skin substitute obtained through another source is utilized. There will always be a greater risk of rejection in such cases and therefore is only intended to be a temporary treatment. A possible solution to lessen the risks and issues associated with skin grafts is to use a 3D printer to print functional skin tissue made from the patient’s own cells. Extensive research has already explored 3D printing of keratinocyte and fibroblast cells which comprise the majority of cells in the skin. However, skin composed of only these two cell types lacks some important functions such as pigmentation. Beyond its aesthetic value, pigmentation is essential for protection from UV radiation, which can lead to DNA damage and skin cancer. The purpose of this research is to explore bioprinting melanocytes as the first step toward ultimately incorporating them with keratinocyte and fibroblast cells to produce skin, which is capable of developing pigmentation when exposed to UV light. An experiment using cultured melanocytes was performed. Four test groups were exposed to multiple doses of UV radiation and subsequently analyzed to determine if melanin was produced. Cells that were manually seeded onto collagen had the highest percentage of live cells followed closely by bioprinted melanocytes yielding 182 ± 39% and 162 ± 10% respectively. Melanocytes were shown to be successfully printed with significant cell growth and still expressed melanin after UV exposure. Future research may focus on how melanocytes can best be printed and incorporated with keratinocytes and fibroblasts to produce skin that acts as a physical barrier for the body and can also develop pigmentation following UV exposure.

Subject Area

Biomedical engineering

Recommended Citation

Wittmann, Corinne Nicole, "Production and Functionality of Melanocytes for Use in 3D-Printed Pigment-Capable Skin Tissue" (2017). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10281383.