L'Oreal has, in fact, been growing skin since the 1980s. A 60-person team grows roughly 100,000 skin samples every year (that's 5 square meters of skin or a full cow's-worth annually) at its lab in Lyon. Currently, the company receives bits of donor skin from plastic surgery procedures. Then L'Oreal breaks the samples down into individual cells, re-cultures and grows them into .5 cm testing squares. The whole process takes about a week to complete but could soon be done much faster thanks to Organovo's NovoGen Bioprinting Platform. This device uses a pair of printer heads -- one for placing human cells, the other for placing a hydrogel support matrix -- to create skin samples on a commercial scale.
The program is still in its planning stages but should it come to market, the cosmetics company will retain exclusive rights to the samples for use in non-prescription skin care products. Organovo, on the other hand, will have the right to sell the tissues for prescription drug and toxicity testing as well as for future organ transplants. The bioprinter has already partnered with Merk to create liver and kidney tissues (the first samples of which should be ready by next year) but this reportedly is the first time the beauty industry has employed such technology.
[Image credit: Organovo]