Scientists at the University of Toronto have developed a portable 3D skin printer that can help treat deep wounds. It is the first device capable of creating tissue, depositing and setting in place in two minutes or less. The research, led by student Navid Hakimi, led by Associate Professor Axel Gunther, was published in Lab on a Chip.
When a deep wound is formed in the skin, all three layers of the skin - epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis - can be damaged. The currently preferred treatment is the removal of an epidermopillary skin graft, where a portion of the healthy donor skin is grafted onto the superficial epidermis and a portion of the underlying dermis.
Skin grafting for large wounds requires sufficient skin from a healthy donor to cover all three layers, so it is rarely possible to do it on site. Most of the wound surface remains "uncovered", which leads to poor outcomes.
Although there are quite a few skin substitutes available, they are not yet widely used in a clinical setting.
“Most modern 3D bioprinters are bulky, slow, expensive, and incompatible with clinical use,” explains Gunther.
Scientists believe their printer is a platform capable of breaking through these barriers and improving the skin's healing process. A pocket skin printer is similar to a toilet paper dispenser, except that instead of a roll, it contains a micro device that forms sheets of tissue. Vertical strips of "bio-ink", made up of proteinaceous biomaterials like collagen and fibrin, collectively form each lamina of skin. The printer is extremely portable and promises to be adaptable to each patient's specificity and wound characteristics.
A small shoe-box-sized device weighs less than a kilogram and requires minimal operator skills. Scientists hope that one day they can begin clinical trials in humans and revolutionize the traditional approach to treating burns.