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Researchers are developing portable 3D skin printers to repair deep wounds



Associate Professor Axel Guenther, Navid Hakimi, and Richard Cheng have developed the first "skin printer" from left to right to make wound care tissue in situ. Credit: Liz Do

University of Toronto researchers have developed a portable 3-D skin printer that even deposits layers of skin tissue to cover and heal deep wounds. The team believes it's the first device to form and deposit tissue in two minutes or less.

The research, led by Ph.D. Student Navid Hakimi under the direction of Associate Professor Axel Guenther of the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Technology, and in collaboration with Marc Jeschke, director of the Ross Tilley Burn Center at Sunnybrook Hospital and professor of immunology at the Faculty of Medicine, was recently published in the journal Lab on a Chip

In patients with deep skin sores, all three skin layers ̵

1; epidermis, dermis and hypodermis – be severely damaged. Currently the preferred treatment is split-thickness skin grafting, in which healthy donor skin is grafted onto the epidermis and part of the underlying dermis. Split skin graft on large wounds requires enough healthy donor skin to traverse all three layers, and sufficient graft skin is rarely available. This leaves part of the injured area "ungrafted" or uncovered, resulting in poor healing results.

Although a large number of tissue engineering skin substitutes exist, they are not yet widely used in clinical settings.

"Most current 3-D bioprinters are bulky, operate at low speeds, are expensive and incompatible with clinical use," explains Günther.

The research team believes the in-situ dermal printer is a platform technology that can overcome these barriers Improving the skin healing process – an important step forward

The hand-held skin printer is similar to a white one -out tape dispenser – except that the tape roll is replaced with a micro device that forms tissue sheets. Vertical strips of "biotin" consisting of protein-based biomaterials, including collagen, the most abundant protein in the dermis, and fibrin, a protein involved in wound healing, run along the inside of each tissue layer.

"Our Skin Printer promises to tailor tissue to specific patients and wound characteristics," says Hakimi. "And it's very portable."

The handset is the size of a small shoe box and weighs less than a kilogram. It also requires minimal operator training and eliminates the washing and incubation stages required by many conventional bioprecorders.

The researchers plan to add several options to the printer, including increasing the size of the coverable wound areas. In collaboration with Jeschke's team at Sunnybrook Hospital, they plan to conduct further in vivo studies. They hope that one day they will be able to conduct clinical trials on humans and eventually revolutionize the treatment of burns.


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