March 28, 2012

Automation improves tissue engineering

Artificial skin is being produced automatically in a lab in Germany, with the production enabled by tissue engineering. Previously, production was only possible only using expensive manual methods in specialized laboratories.

Artificial skin for use in transplants or to verify the safety of the active ingredients of drugs, cosmetics and chemicals is a rare commodity. It is currently produced manually on a laboratory scale, and cultivation takes six weeks. The production volume is therefore limited to 2,000 pieces of skin per month, each one only a square centimetre in size.

The new BioPoLiS organic production laboratory at the Fraunhofer IPA is home to what it says is the only facility in the world for the fully automatic in vitro production of up to 5,000 human skin models a month. The plant reflects the importance of bio-production, a combination of biology and automation technology. The knowledge of biologists and engineers has come together in the fields of laboratory automation, process automation and liquid handling.

The factory is designed to produce approximately 5,000 postage-stamp-sized skin models each month. It is very important for biological requirements to be met with regard to the sterility of all processes and the handling of cells. In the multi-step process, the skin samples are first sterilized, transported by robots into the machine, crushed, isolated and induced to grow. The artificial skin is ready after three weeks.

The first single automated skin tissue production line will make larger pieces of skin and over twice as many of them in half the time.

Automated tissue engineering: a single production line handles the entire process. Image courtesy of Fraunhofer.

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