A new handheld 3D printer, developed by a team of researchers from the University of Toronto Engineering and Sunnybrook Hospital, has the ability to print new skin cells on severe burn injuries.
The bio-ink used by this printer is composed of Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs). These stem cells can differentiate into specialized cell types depending on their environment. In this case, the MSC material promotes skin regeneration and reduces scarring.
The new technology will be a game-changer in saving the life of burned patients. According to Dr. Marc Jeschke, director of the Ross Tilley Burn Centre, this device could come in clinical use in the next 5 years.
Currently, the method used for the treatment of burned skin is autologous skin grafting, which requires transplantation of healthy skin from other parts of the body onto the wound. But in this method, the large or fully burned bodies face greater challenges.
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. Sometime this could lead to patient death too.
The prototype of the handled 3D skin printer has been successfully tested and the results of the experiment were recently reported in the IOP publishing journal Biofabrication.
Senior author and Professor Axel Gunther, from the University of Toronto, said: “Skin grafts, where the damaged tissue is removed and replaced with skin taken from another area of the patient’s body, are a standard treatment for serious burns. This device could be a life savvier on those points”.
“In general, the wound surfaces we designed this device for are not flat, nor are they oriented horizontally. One of the most important advantages of the device is that it should allow for the uniform deposition of a bio-ink layer onto inclined surfaces”, said Jeschke.
Marc continued saying that in this study, “we tested whether the device could do this effectively by using it to treat full-thickness burns in pigs. We found the device successfully deposited the ‘skin sheets’ onto the wounds uniformly, safely and reliably, and the sheets stayed in place with only very minimal movement.”
The first prototype of the skin printer was introduced in 2018 and after that it has been redesigned 10 times. 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.
“Most significantly, our results showed that the MSC-treated wounds healed extremely well, with a reduction in inflammation, scarring, and contraction compared with both the untreated wounds and those treated with a collagen scaffold,” the co-author opined