How does a leading cosmetics company test its products without harming animals? L'Oreal found a novel solution: use a 3-D printer to produce sheets of skin tissue.
Earlier this month, L'Oreal announced a partnership Organovo, whose NovoGen Bioprinting Platform can print living human tissue. Most of the tissue is used in pre-clinical trials for liver and kidney drugs. But soon it will be used to test how skin reacts to L'Oreal's beauty products.
Plenty of people have used 3-D printing to create plastic items like toys, guns and even an "Iron Man"-themed prosthetic arm. Organovo's bioprinting works in a similar way — printer heads put down layer after layer of material until a three-dimensional product is created. In this case, however, the material is something called "bio-ink," which contains the human cells necessary to grow tissue.
Since 2013, L'Oreal claims that it "no longer tests on animals any of its products or any of its ingredients, anywhere in the world," with the "rare exception" of when local regulatory authorities require it.
In fact, the company has been growing its own 2-D cell cultures for awhile. The partnership with Organovo, however, should allow the company to create a higher quantity and quality of skin tissue in its new California lab.
"Organovo has broken new ground with 3-D bioprinting, an area that complements L'Oreal's pioneering work in the research and application of reconstructed skin for the past 30 years," Guive Balooch, global vice president of L'Oreal's technology incubator, said in a statement.
The 3-D printed skin could become a hot commodity as more countries forbid cosmetics testing on animals. The European Union banned it in 2013 and Australia's government passed a bill to outlaw the practice this month. It's still legal in the United States and widespread in China.