New Handheld Device “Prints” Skin Directly Onto Wounds
By Aaron Kesel
Every day science is making medical discoveries that can change our lives. And now scientists have created a handheld skin printer that patches up damaged skin due to injuries such as extreme burns.
Spanish scientists from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), Center for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research (CIEMAT) created a large bioprinter that prints human skin in 2017.
Then in 2018, Canadian scientists advanced the research and revealed a handheld device that “prints” sheets of artificial skin directly onto the wounds of burn victims.
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“The analogy is a duct tape dispenser,” researcher Axel Günther told Smithsonian Magazine at the time, “where instead of a roll of tape you have a microdevice that squishes out a piece of tissue tape.”
The Canadian scientists recently published the hopeful results of their latest trial of the handheld device in the journal Biofabrication. Doctors currently have several possibilities for treating severe burns including collagen scaffolds, in vitro skin substitutes, and skin grafts.
The most commonly used method is skin grafts which involves removing damaged tissue and replacing it with healthy skin from another part of the body. But grafts aren’t always a viable option.
“[I]n cases where a patient has extensive full-thickness burns—which destroy both the upper and lower layers of the skin—there is not always sufficient healthy skin left to use,” Günther explained in a press release.
Alternative burn treatments such as collagen scaffolds and in vitro skin substitutes, each have their own downsides, Günther also said.
These are the reasons given for why the team created a device that eliminates the need for skin grafts altogether by depositing strips of a special bio-ink directly onto a wound. The bio-ink contains healing proteins and mesenchymal stromal cells which aid the body’s immune system and stimulates new cell growth, according to the researchers.
For the trial, scientists tested the skin printing device on full-thickness burns on pigs and they were very impressed with the results.
“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,” Marc Jeschke said in the press release.
“Most significantly, our results showed that the [mesenchymal stromal cell]-treated wounds healed extremely well,” he continued, “with a reduction in inflammation, scarring, and contraction compared with both the untreated wounds and those treated with a collagen scaffold.”
In 2016, researchers at Harvard University made the first 3-D-printed heart-on-a-chip with integrated sensing. And in 2019 that research was advanced when Israeli scientists created the first 3D-printed heart using human tissue and vessels. They engineered the heart from the tissue of patients and created a bio-ink, Telegraph reported.
This new skin can also be used in the research and testing of cosmetics, chemicals, and pharmaceutical products that go on and into the human body.
Skin “can be transplanted into patients or used in business settings to test chemical products, cosmetics or pharmaceutical products in quantities and with timetables and prices that are compatible with these uses,” Professor José Luis Jorcano head of the Mixed Unit CIEMAT/UC3M in Biomedical Engineering said previously.
On the other hand, some may argue that this is a giant leap towards “transhumanism.”