That system, to be made commercially available by the end of 2010, is expected to produce about 5,000 skin "equivalents" per month, each with a diameter of roughly one centimeter, at an estimated cost of about €35 (US $49) per piece. In a next step, the Fraunhofer researchers plan a fully automated system capable of producing synthetic skin with blood vessels in it. That system could hit the market as early as 2013 and would represent a big step forward in efforts by the medical industry to provide safe -- and affordable -- skin transplants.
Robots and Automation Grow Skin Fast
The Fraunhofer technology relies on advanced sensors, control systems, and techniques, such as Raman spectroscopy, to create and monitor the biochemical and mechanical environments that cause the skin to mature. It also encompasses robotics and other advanced automation processes that may make human intervention in the artificial-tissue-growing process unnecessary. One part of the system is a fully automated cutting device for preparing biopsied skin for use in the tissue engineering process. Another is a scalable bioreactor system that boosts the yield of usable skin cells by using an integrated suite of sensors designed to detect contaminations instantly. A third innovation is the use of optical coherence tomography, a nondestructive three-dimensional imaging technique for testing the quality of the finished skin. So far, at least 19 patents have emerged from the project.