The new device, and first of its kind, could one day be filled with a patient's own cells to print new skin, helping in the healing of large wounds or burns. This is because the bioprinting system allows bi-layered skin to be printed directly into a wound.
Better yet, it is mobile which means it can be brought to the patient's bedside to work its magic.
"The unique aspect of this technology is the mobility of the system and the ability to provide on-site management of extensive wounds by scanning and measuring them in order to deposit the cells directly where they are needed to create skin," said Sean Murphy, Ph.D., a Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) assistant professor who was lead author of the paper.
The new technology is truly impressive. It consists of mixing major skin cells involved in wound healing with a hydrogel and then placing them in the bioprinter. Like something out of a sci-fi film, the system then proceeds to create skin layers.
More importantly, it scans the wound so as to apply the newly-printed skin exactly where it is needed. In essence, the device mimics skin's natural healing but faster and perhaps even more efficiently.
Before you get too excited it should be noted that the system is still at the proof-of-concept stage. However, researchers are seeking to now conduct clinical trials in humans.
Replacing skin grafts
If successful, the device would be game-changing for the healing of wounds. Currently, skin grafts are the most popular techniques for treating large wounds, however, they come with many complications.
In addition to a lack of availability of skin to harvest there is always the risk donor grafts will be rejected by the patient. Skin grafts also produce a lot of scars.
"The technology has the potential to eliminate the need for painful skin grafts that cause further disfigurement for patients suffering from large wounds or burns," said WFIRM Director Anthony Atala, M.D., and a co-author of the paper.
The WFIRM bioprinter would use a patient's own cells ensuring they are accepted by the patient's body. Trials thus far have even shown the bioprinting system would even promote further healing.
"If you deliver the patient's own cells, they do actively contribute to wound healing by organizing up front to start the healing process much faster," said James Yoo, M.D., Ph. D, who led the research team and co-authored the paper. "While there are other types of wound healing products available to treat wounds and help them close, those products don't actually contribute directly to the creation of skin."
The study is published this month in Nature's Scientific Reports journal.