A team from the University of Liverpool believe they are close to developing a synthetic skin that can not only be produced on a 3D printer, but can be matched to a specific person based on their age, gender and ethnic group.
While 3D printing is being developed for everything from making kidneys to mechanical replacement parts, the production of human-looking skin is a different challenge all together. Previous efforts have reportedly failed to produce a product that looks realistic enough to be indistinguishable from the real thing.
The team, which is working alongside researchers from the University of Manchester, believe that 3D printers can be used to develop and enhance skin modelling techniques that will be able to duplicate a person’s skin so that it appears completely natural.
Dr Sophie Wuerger from the Perception Group in the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society said: “The human visual system is extremely sensitive to small distortions in skin appearance, so making a convincing synthetic version will be essential whether this technology is used for emergency or cosmetic medicine.”
The UK team believe that by using 3D technology, they can take geometry into account, which is crucial since the perception of skin is often influenced by factors such as shadows. However, the technology needs to be perfected first so that image processing can exactly match an individual’s skin tone and skin texture under varying light sources.
Wuerger added: “This science is at an early stage, but the advantages of 3D printing for medicine are enormous.”
Images courtesy University of Liverpool/ Neil Barnwell