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Bio-engineering of leather: structure design, biosynthesis - Towards zero emission production (DERMAGENESIS)

Final Report Summary - DERMAGENESIS (Bio-engineering of leather: structure design, biosynthesis - Towards zero emission production)

The problems, already well known during processing conventionally rawstock for leather upper end use, are inherent to the nature of the raw hides and skins, but also of the supply chain. The tanner was obliged before DERMAGENESIS to use hides and skins preserved quite often using a curing process to ensure long term preservation; salt loads in the effluent, in turn, represents an intrinsic pollution load that the tanner to confront as a priority. The rawstock market has been quite volatile, and hides and skins always an unpredictable and precious commodity.

On the other hand, the variability of the hides and skins, being eco-systems with a mechanical performance that is by far superior in the starting material and always reduced in the finished product, in conjunction to problems linked to this topographic diversity even on the same skins or hides was not so far possible to tackle, but only accept and try and improve the quality consistency of the final product with good chemistry. This project aimed at integrating the end users specifications the soonest possible in our process - an objective achieved during the first year of the project - this time by looking into the development of a neo-tissue, but as it became apparent later on, also through the transfer and adaptation of processes established or investigated in the biomedical sector to a traditional and rather inefficient commercial production process - i.e. leather making.

During the third year of the project, it became apparent that the intrinsic limitations of the new process development in terms of phase duration, as well as the high operational costs of the experimental protocols and set ups, if the original set objective for the development of an upper leather analogue were to be met. Presenting the new biohybrids to the tanners clearly surfaced the need to investigate thoroughly the spin off applications, results of the project in the short term eventually aiming the production of a tailored-to-the-client bio-upper in the mid-to-long-term.

During the last year, the development in the field of processing natural animal origin and synthetic biohybrid fabrics aiming at the dedicated low or no waste production of novel metal, salt, and biocide-free semi-processed dried commodities, as well as their closed loop stabilisation and finishing operations has yielded already some of the most exciting results of the project, that can be taken up by the end of the execution phase by the industrial partners.

By the end of the execution phase of the project, the feasibility of the production of a 3 mm thick three-dimensional (3D)-bovine dermis analogue to be stabilised and processed de novo in vitro with a complete set of novel post-tissue growth formulations, systems and apparatus has been demonstrated beyond doubt.

This groundbreaking result has been achieved for the first time through the amalgamation of the traditional leatherworking skills with the cutting-edge techniques and knowledge of the tissue engineering and biomedical fields.

This has been very well received from both the tanning and footwear sector at an open international workshop held on month 51, as well as greeted as the vehicles for the sectors transformation by public and governmental national authorities declarations.

Moreover, Dermatox, a new and never achieved hitherto microtoxicity testing portable instrument, not requiring all the facilities of a laboratory is the system of choice, is probably one of the most promising horizontally applicable inventions of this project laboratory-based toxicity testing systems are widespread and well-established so that a new entrant should address the weak points of such systems. The MicrotoxR system has developed a unit for field use, whose feasibility derives to a large extent from the fact that the test organism employed, the light-emitting marine bacterium Vibrio fischeri, can be stored in the freeze-dried form, at ambient temperature.

However, it has become apparent on month 54 that the new optimised biohybrid based derma analogue components applicability, fitness for end use and economic viability as upper material in shoe manufacturing remains to be re-evaluated using bio-fabric material generated with the optimised culture protocols successfully scaled up and stabilised with the new combo-DERMAGENESIS pilot set-up at Biofin; albeit the structure of the produced tissues on month 54 does not appear to be that of a mature dermis, the basic macromolecular components and their assembly resemble closely that of a dermis at its early stage of the development.

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