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Hand-held skin printer developed

The 3D skin printer in action, image by: Navid Hakimi

Researchers from the University of Toronto have developed a portable, hand-held 3D skin printing device. Their aim is to improve wound care by making it possible to seal and heal deep wounds by creating new tissue in situ.

“Most current 3D bioprinters are bulky, work at low speeds, are expensive and are incompatible with clinical application,” said associate professor Axel Guenther of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, who supervised the research, in a May 2 press release.

The research was led by PhD student Navid Hakimi and included collaboration from Dr. Marc Jeschke, director of the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto and professor of immunology at the Faculty of Medicine at U of T. In the release, the investigators note that split-thickness skin grafting—the current preferred treatment for deep wound management—is limited by the availability of donor skin. And while a large number of tissue-engineered skin substitutes exist, they are not yet widely used in clinical settings. The research team believes their in-situ skin printer technology can overcome these barriers and improve the skin-healing process. Their research was published in Lab on a Chip (Apr. 11, 2018).

Slightly resembling a tape dispenser, the device manufactures sheets of tissue, each lined with stripes of ‘bio ink’ comprised of protein-based biomaterials including collagen and fibrin. “Our skin printer promises to tailor tissues to specific patients and wound characteristics,” said Hakimi in the release. “And it’s very portable.” The handheld device is the size of a small shoe box and weighs less than one kilogram. The release notes it requires minimal operator training and eliminates the washing and incubation stages required by many conventional bioprinters.

Additional capabilities are planned for the printer, including increasing the surface area of wounds that can be treated.

Proof-of-principle demonstrations of the device for in situ formation of biomaterial sheets have been conducted in murine and porcine excisional wound models, and the team plan to perform more in vivo studies, with the eventual goal of conducting clinical trials in humans for burn care.

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