Printed Skin Cells Will Change How We Treat Burns Forever

skin cells peeling


Scientists at Wake Forest School of Medicine are making strides in a skin-printing technology to treat burn victims. 

Several years ago, the scientists there were inspired by ink-jet printers, Cosmos Magazine reported. They thought if they put skin cells into a “cartridge,” they’d be able to transfer cells onto damaged skin. 

The scientists actually started by using a typical inkjet printer and using cells instead of ink.

A scientist at Cornell explains how it works:

One technique involves a portable ‘bioprinter’ that could be carried to wounded soldiers on the battlefield where it would scan the injury, take cells from the patient and print a section of compatible skin. Another uses a three-dimensional (3-D) printer combining donor cells, biofriendly gel and other materials to build cartilage.

“It spits out plastic to gradually build an object layer by layer… after a couple of hours you end up with a real physical object that you can hold in your hand,” said Hod Lipson of Cornell University in New York said it worked much like an ink-jet printer.

They successfully developed the technology, putting skin cells in vials and then “printing” them onto skin. A high-tech laser senses which areas are injured and maps where the skin cells should go. 

Recent clinical trials with mice and pigs suggest that skin-printing is an effective treatment. However, it could still be more than a year before they begin testing on humans.

The approach will immediately stabilise wounds and help victims to heal much faster.

Skin grafts, the traditional method used to treat burns, are impractical because burn victims often don’t have enough unaffected skin to cover the burnt areas, according to Wake Forest’s website. They also delay the time in which skin heals, which increases the risk of infection. 

But the printed skin cells expedite the healing process, according to the school. In clinical trials, mice with wounds similar to burn wounds healed in just three weeks, compared with five weeks for untreated animals. 

The school is also working on growing large amounts of skin in a laboratory to help treat wounds. 

The same approach has also been floated as a way to treat soldiers wounded in combat, CNN reported back in 2010. 

Check out the step-by-step process showing how skin cells are printed to treat burn victims >
See our list of Game Changers: 30 Innovations That Will Change The World >

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