A group of researchers at the University of Toronto developed a hand-held 3D skin printer that deposits layers of skin tissues to heal deep wounds. The gun-like device according to the research team is the first of its kind to form, deposit and settle the tissue on a specified surface in less than two minutes.
“Most current 3D bioprinters are bulky, work at low speeds, are expensive and are incompatible with clinical application,” said Alex Guenther, Associate Professor of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, University of Toronto.
The device that weighs only about 0.9 kilograms (2 lbs.) will leave behind a thin layer of ‘bio-ink’ when used on the skin surface. The ink is made up of materials like collagen and fibrin, which are normally present in the skin.
Collagen is a protein that helps in the cell growth, and fibrin is also a protein that helps to heal wounds by helping the blood to clot.
According to the paper published in the journal Lab on a Chip, the device was tested to heal small wounds on mice and pigs. The test was successful with no side effects.
However, the device has not been tested on humans yet. It is a proof of concept and needs to undergo more research and tests before being used on humans.
But the potential of this 3d-printing device is so high that, in the future, it is expected to even heal and make organs by distributing cells to necessary spots.
Skin is the largest organ of our body that shields and protects our all other organs. It is made up of three layers, the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis.
The epidermis is the outermost layer and is made mainly of keratinocytes (which are dead cells) that serve as a membrane to prevent water loss. This layer also has the Merkel cells, which helps us to feel light touches and the lymphocytes (immune cells), which carry wastes for disposal to the lymph nodes.
The dermis is the middle layer which has collagen fiber matrices that impart strength and elasticity to the skin. The hypodermis, being the bottom layer is built mostly of fat.
This complicated network of hairs, nerves, blood vessels, and cells protect us from the harmful microbes outside. But some deep wounds, like the ones caused by burns, can remove all the three layers of the skin, making it vulnerable for attack by microbes and difficult to heal.
In such cases, we expect the ‘healing gun’ to be of great use in the coming future. At this stage, the test involved only depositing cells like fibroblasts and keratinocytes, but researchers hope that they will be able to develop a device that will leave behind perfect human skin, with all the stem cells.
Our skin printer promises to tailor tissues to specific patients and wound characteristics,” said Navid Hakimi, lead author and Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto. “And it’s very portable.”
This is not the first time that the 3D printing technology is utilized for healing the wounds. Researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine developed a machine to prints skin onto deep wounds and burns by layering healthy skin over damaged skin.