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Will Robots Have Human Skin? by John R. Patrick

Words: 532, Reading time: 2 minutes

The traditional treatment for burns or extensive skin injuries has been skin grafts. This will be changing as scientists have made significant advancements in bioengineering which make it possible to grow patches of skin in the laboratory. The engineered grafts are less invasive than traditional skin transplants from other areas of the patient.

Up until now, skin patches could only be in flat circles or rectangles like typical bandages. The basic shapes work fine for wounds on flat surfaces like the back, but they are not a good treatment for uneven surfaces like the face or hands. Cutting and suturing to fit these shapes can have adverse effects such as scarring or even more skin damage.

Dr. Hasan Erbil Abaci is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center, and his team of researchers started some very advanced work to 3D-print engineered skin in whatever shapes a patient may need. The goal was to print custom grafts which could be transplanted with minimal cutting and suturing. The researchers’ study was published in Science Advances in January 2023. The team picked models of human hands and the hindlimbs of mice to test their new system of customized skin.

The process is quite intricate. It starts with a scan of the desired body part and a corresponding 3D-printed biocompatible three-dimensional structure called a scaffold. The scaffolds were designed with ports which could facilitate the infusion of different liquid cultures and skin cells to nurture the development of the skin. The process had the effect of growing natural skin.

After a month of incubation and promotion of the growth of layers of cells, the researchers found the grafts had formed an epidermis, a uniform outer layer of skin cells. The 3D-cultured skin showed greater resistance to stresses from movement than the normal flat grafts. Dr. Abaci cited additional advantages of the 3D-printed skin constructs. He referred to the transplants as “biological clothing.” The 3D grafts potentially offer many benefits and set the stage for advanced research which will probably create new opportunities in regenerative medicine.

The research described in this story can become very important for patients in need. It may also be a precursor for artificial skin for robots. As we add artificial hips, knees, pacemakers, and other implants to our bodies, we become more like robots. As robots get smarter and add skin and other biological-like parts, the robots will become more like humans. If you believe in the singularity, the day will come where nobody can tell the difference between a biological being and a non-biological being. You can read more about the singularity in Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better.


The source of information used in this article came from a February 14, 2023 story in NIH Research Mattersnamed “Engineering skin grafts for complex body parts”. The journal is produced by the National Institutes of Health which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. I got some minor help on this article from chatGPT4. I ran Copyscape.com to make sure the story is void of plagiarism.