Handheld Device "Prints" New Skin onto Serious Burn Victims

It functions much like a Scotch tape dispenser.
Fabienne Lang
Researchers from the University of Toronto with their "skin printer" deviceLiz Do/University of Toronto

Serious burn victims may soon have another option for "new" skin. Scientists from the University of Toronto started working on a handheld device back in 2018 that "prints" skin onto these victims. 

Now, the scientists have tested the device on pigs, and it's worked marvelously. 

Their work was published in the journal IOP Science Biofabrication on Tuesday.


"Duct tape dispenser"

As Associate Professor at the University of Toronto and senior author of the study, Axel Günther explained to the Smithsonian Magazine in 2018, "The analogy is a duct tape dispenser, where instead of a roll of tape you have a microdevice that squishes out a piece of tissue tape."

Handheld Device "Prints" New Skin onto Serious Burn Victims
An illustration of how the skin device functions, Source: IOP Science

The device is now one step closer to being used in burn clinics after its successful testing on full-thickness burns on pigs

A number of options already exist for burn victims, with skin grafts as the most common format for replacing skin. It involves removing the damaged skin and replacing it with healthy skin from another part of the body. 

However, skin grafts aren't always possible in some extremely severe burn situations where both layers of skin are rendered useless. 

Other options such as collagen scaffolds and in vitro skin substitutes also exist, however, these come with other downsides, explained Günther

This is when a device that directly prints new skin onto a wound comes in very handy. 

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The need for skin grafts is entirely eliminated by depositing strips of special bioink directly onto the wound. This bioink contains healing proteins and mesenchymal stromal cells, which help the body's immune system and increase cell growth. 

"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," researcher Marc Jeschke said in a 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."

Just a few more tests to carry out before the device can be used on humans. 

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