Researchers from the University of Toronto Engineering and Sunnybrook Hospital have developed a novel type of handheld 3D printer capable of depositing uniform sheets of skin to cover large burn wounds, while its “bio ink” has been shown to accelerate the healing process.
Writing in the journal Biofrabrication, the researchers describe how the “bio ink” – which consists of mesenchymal stroma cells (MSCs) – used by the device promotes skin regeneration and reduces scarring in a series of in-vivo trials performed on full-thickness wounds.
“Previously, we proved that we could deposit cells onto a burn, but there wasn’t any proof that there were any wound-healing benefits – now we’ve demonstrated that,” said Professor Axel Guenther.
A prototype of the device – thought to be the first-ever piece of equipment capable of inducing in situ tissue formation within two minutes or less – was first unveiled back in 2018. Fast-forward to today and the “printer” has already gone through as many as 10 iterations, all necessary for the eventual clinical roll-out.
If the device proves successful, it could – at least in some cases – replace the most commonly used method of care for burn wounds called “autologous grafting”, which involves transplanting skin taken from other parts of the body onto the site of injury.
While this works fine for smaller wounds, full-thickness burns which affect both the outermost and innermost layers of the skin, and often cover large portions of the body, require a different approach as there isn’t always enough skin for transplantation, which sometimes leads to patient deaths.
According to project leader Richard Cheng, the current version of the prototype – which includes a single-use microfluidic printhead and a soft tracking wheel for superior control – still requires some fine-tuning to improve its scarring-reduction capacity even further.
If all goes according to plan, the device could make its way to the clinical setting within the next five years. “Once it's used in an operating room, I think this printer will be a game changer in saving lives. With a device like this, it could change the entirety of how we practice burn and trauma care,” said collaborator on the project Dr Marc Jeschke.