Sustainable leather using tissue engineering

Biologically inspired fabrics represent a novel class of materials with uniquely engineereable properties

Original source: Materials Today

Tissue engineering research has traditionally focused on combining materials science, engineering, chemistry and biology to develop solutions for human medical applications. Typically, research aims to develop tissue analogues with the ultimate goal of producing patient-specific replacement tissues and organs to circumvent the need for tissue/organ donors. However, a team of researchers and engineers from Modern Meadow Inc., in collaboration with Dr Leather Ltd, have translated significant advances in in vitro tissue culture and biofabrication to create leather-like tissues for applications in fashion and upholstery [Jakab et al.Materials Today Sustainability (2019) doi: 10.1016/j.mtsust.2019.100018].

To create the tissue engineered leather-like material, the authors propose an eight-step method (Figure 1), involving the procurement of bovine dermal fibroblasts (1) and subsequent in vitro expansion into sheets (2). Collagen secretion is induced in sheets of cells (3) which are subsequently layered (4) to form dense, interconnected tissues (5). The engineered ‘hide’ is then tanned (6), subjected to colouring and other finishes (7) and ready for production (8). Scanning electron microscopy, histology and a hydroxyproline assay were used to characterise the morphology and collagen content of the cultured tissues respectively, whilst tensile and stitch tear strength were characterised using mechanical testing.

The authors found the tissue engineered material to exhibit a layered structure and contained 30% collagen (compared to approximately 60% for true leather). In addition, the tissue engineered leather-like material had comparable tensile strength to true leather and could be satisfactorily fabricated into a leather bracelet by a well-known leather artisan (Figure 2).

The authors reinforce the need for careful nomenclature, noting that tissue engineered cell-matrix layers cannot technically be classified as leather. As such, the developed ‘leather-like’ material exhibits several similarities with true leather and is able to be processed into a fashion item. However, notable differences such as a discrepancy in collagen content between true leather and their leather-like material yield avenues for future research and development.

This article was published in Materials Today Sustainability journal, which was launched in early-2018 as part of the Materials Today family, transcending multidisciplinary approaches to sustainability through materials science [Introducing Materials Today Sustainability,].