Printing a skin replacement: The possibilities of 3-D technologies in dermatology

Dermatology may experience wide new tech applications, even more than other specialties. Although still in their early stages, 3D innovations are promising.

Translated from the original German version.

Current 3D innovations at a glance

A deep look into the skin

The pioneering fields of 3D technologies include disciplines such as radiology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, and cardiac surgery, in which 3D procedures have been established for a long time. For example, complex heart operations can be reconstructed three-dimensionally in advance. 3D models are also used to train future surgeons. The new applications also offer great potential for dermatology. An important area of application: diagnostics.

With LC-OCT, single cells are imaged in real time with a penetration depth of up to 500 μm. Vertical and horizontal sections can be viewed and videos created. A wide variety of skin diseases such as psoriasis, eczema, scabies or tumours can be depicted vividly with unprecedented precision.

Printed skin instead of split skin and plastic flaps

But 3D processes can also be used profitably in therapy. In the 3D printer, human skin could be reproduced from the epidermis to the hair root. This can be used to cover wound surfaces and promote wound healing. In the future, split skin and coverage for large wound defects or burns could even be completely replaced by skin from a printer.

Progress documentation is another future field of application for 3D. Hand-held 3D scanners provide accurate up-to-date images of skin conditions. They can be archived, shared with colleagues and used in research and teaching.

3D models to touch

Not least, education and training could benefit enormously from new 3D technologies. Diagnostics that enable the use of most human senses has been central to the dermatological field. However, due to increasing digitalisation and online teaching, tactile contact with concrete visual objects has been pushed into the background.

With 3D models, skin findings could be recreated realistically and haptic skills trained on them. Similar to what is already being done in surgery, training assistants could use the models to learn procedures such as complex flap surgery. All this could, incidentally, make dermatology more attractive as a speciality for young doctors.

The future of dermatology

3D technologies offer enormous potential for dermatological diagnostics, therapy, training and teaching that has hardly been exploited to date. In the near future, it will be impossible to imagine modern dermatology without the third dimension.