The Grapevine

New Technology That Prints Human Skin Could Help Hasten Wound Healing

Scientists have developed a new technology that can print human skin, layer by layer, to cover and treat large wounds or burns faster than traditional treatments. 

A team from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) created the mobile skin bioprinting system that uses a patient's own cells to produce skin tissue that will directly cover wounds, EurekAlert reported Thursday.

Researchers said in a report published in the Scientific Reports journal that doctors can easily move the wheeled technology to any place because of its mobility. 

"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," Sean Murphy, a WFIRM assistant professor and lead author of the report, said.

The skin-printing system uses major skin cells, called dermal fibroblasts and epidermal keratinocytes, that naturally play a critical role in wound healing and the formation of the outermost layer of the skin.

To produce skin tissue, scientists mix the cells with a hydrogel and place them into the bioprinter. They then scan the wound using an integrated imaging technology to see which cells to deliver and where.

Pre-clinical trials show that the printer was able to produce normal skin structure and function.

"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," James Yoo, who led the research team and co-authored the paper, said. "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."

WFIRM Director Anthony Atala said the technology shows the potential to eliminate the need for painful skin grafts. He added that the mobile bioprinter could help speed up delivery of care and decrease costs for patients.

The researchers plan to conduct a clinical trial in humans to confirm the benefits of the new technology. 

To date, millions of Americans reportedly suffer from chronic, large or non-healing wounds, such as diabetic pressure ulcers that require multiple treatments. Burn injuries also cover 10-30 percent of combat casualties of U.S. military personnel.