Name: Charlotte Illsley
Occupation: PhD Student
Institution: University of Plymouth
What are you currently using CELLINK technology for? (Please specify what you are using)
I am working with Dr Bing Hu from Peninsula Dental School, at the University of Plymouth, to develop a novel skin equivalent system that is able to mimic functional human skin. We are currently using CELLINKs INKREDIBLE+ bio-printer to develop this skin substitute, which will be used as a testing platform to screen extracts from native plants and seaweeds from different locations in Cornwall, England, for powerful skin care applications.
Skin is the largest organ in the body accounting for around 15% of adult body weight. It is a complex multi-layered structure which plays an important role in maintaining homeostasis and providing protection from the external environment. The skin comprises three layers, epidermis, dermis and hypodermis with each component performing specialist functions. If any of these components malfunction, it usually results in undesirable conditions from a rash, to cellulitis, or even cancer.
Creating skin substitutes through 3D Bio-printing also allows us to move away from alternatives, meaning that we can work with an increasing number of small to medium enterprises within Cornwall through Agri-tech, developing ethical organic and local products and increasing opportunities for local companies. As part of the Agri-Tech Cornwall project, a three-year, £10 million initiative, funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Cornwall Council, we are collaborating with Cornish cosmetic companies and using our skin testing platform to help develop and screen their products and extracts for anti-aging or ROS scavenging properties that could be used for the UV protection of skin. By scientifically proving that there are topical applications of plant extracts through testing on our skin substitutes, the project would help increase the value of the plants grown to produce raw materials for the cosmetic and eventually medical sector – bringing more money to growers in this very rural area of the UK.
What sparked your interest to work with 3D Bioprinting?
My interest in bio-printing was sparked by my PhD studies in tissue engineering, working to develop a novel skin model. My role as a Research Associate within the Agri-tech project has allowed us to explore this skin model further, integrating the use of bio-printing. There is currently a massive market for skin-engineered substitutes, but to the best of our knowledge, there is currently no skin model that is able to mimic all aspects of the skin. The 3D bio-printer is a great start to helping us on the long road of testing to enable this to happen by combining with an Organ-on-a-Chip skin platform that is currently under development in our University.
What future projects are you hoping to use CELLINK technology for?
We are currently developing the skin model for the topical applications of skin care products. But we are excited to investigate the molecular mechanisms of different extracts from native Cornish plants and their effect on skin aging and UV protection as part of the Agri-Tech project. Skin cancer is such a prevalent condition affecting a wide variety of individuals, especially in the South West of England. The idea that a native Cornish plant extract could confer UV protective properties is very exciting.
What do you find to be most exciting about working with 3D Bio-printing?
For me, the most exciting thing is working with cutting-edge technology and the potential to really make a difference to the lives of so many people. 3D bio-printing could be utilised for so many aspects of healthcare, from use for skin grafts where the printed substitute could be implanted in a wound site or printed directly allowing the healthy part of the skin to provide nourishment to the graft. The application for personalised medicine within bio-printing is also a huge opportunity, as each step allows it to be an obvious application of this technology. Bio-printing within the Agri-tech project will hopefully advance drug and cosmetic testing by helping to create a skin substitute with full functionality of native skin. It’s wonderful to think I’m part of a team that is working to make this happen.