Handheld 3D skin printer demonstrates accelerated healing of large, severe burns


A new handheld 3D printer can deposit sheets
of skin to cover large burn wounds – and its “bio ink” can accelerate the healing
process. The device, developed by a team of researchers
from the University of Toronto Engineering and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, covers
wounds with a uniform sheet of biomaterial, stripe by stripe. The bio ink dispensed by the roller is composed
of mesenchymal stroma cells (MSCs) — stem cells that differentiate into specialized
cell types depending on their environment. In this case, the MSC material promotes skin
regeneration and reduces scarring. The research team’s successful in-vivo trials
on full-thickness wounds are reported in the journal Biofabrication. The paper is a major step forward for the
team, which unveiled the first prototype of the skin printer in 2018. The device was believed to be the first device
of its kind to form tissue in situ, depositing and setting in place in two minutes or less. The current method of care for burns is autologous
skin grafting, which requires transplantation of healthy skin from other parts of the body
onto the wound. But large, full-body burns pose a greater
challenge. Full-thickness burns are characterized by
the destruction of both the outermost and innermost layers of the skin; these burns
often cover a significant portion of the body. In case of big burns, sufficient healthy skin
won’t be available, which could lead to patient deaths. Since 2018, the printer has gone through 10
redesigns, as the team moves towards a design they envision surgeons using in an operating
room. The current prototype includes a single-use
microfluidic printhead to ensure sterilization, and a soft wheel that follows the track of
the printhead, allowing for better control for wider wounds. The researchers believe this handheld skin
printer could be seen in a clinical setting within the next five years.

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