A new handheld machine is capable of printing skin sheet replacements directly onto the burned skin of burned victims and potentially speed up the skin grafting, but also reduce the costs related to it.
The research is published in the Lab on a Chip journal.
A Revolution in the Treatment of Burned Patients?
A patient with serious burn injuries is brought into a burn center and needs a skin graft. The surgeon arrives with a small and handheld device and quickly releases sheets of artificial skin onto the wounds, as easily as rolling out a Scotch tape.
This scenario could soon become a reality thanks to this machine which is being developed by Canadian scientists. It’s a handheld 3D skin printer that deposits skin tissue layers on burns and other injuries.
According to a professor of engineering at the University of Toronto who was a supervisor in the research, Axel Guenther, he’s convinced this method they’re pursuing is a very capable method and it has a chance to actually reach the clinics.
What Is the Current Procedure for Treatment of Burned Victims?
Burned patients have it very hard; burn injuries are very painful, heal slowly, and are prone to infections. Usually, patients with severe burns will get an autologous skin graft. The doctors shave off a piece of healthy skin to cover the affected area.
However, if the burn is large, there’s not sufficient healthy skin to use. And, the shaving off of the healthy one makes a new injury which becomes a new pain and infection source.
When these numerous challenges are taken into account, it’s no wonder researchers have been long searching for methods to make artificial skin grafts from synthetic or biological materials.
You can now find various such products on the market, but they’re not without limitations. Some of them are expensive, others are only suitable for short-term use whereas some require weeks to be created from the skin cells of the patients.
How Was the Handheld 3D Skin Printer Made?
The University of Toronto’s researchers developed this handheld printer which is the size of a shoebox and it weighs around 2 pounds.
It releases bio-ink strips that are made of biological materials, including collagen, the most abundant protein in our dermis (the skin’s middle layer), and fibrin, a protein necessary for the healing of wounds. These strips can be set directly onto the injured skin areas.
Currently, the tests have been successful on pigs and the hope is to continue with human trials in the following few years. If it proves effective on humans, the team will work together with burn surgeons to study operating room workflows and make a system that will meet their needs in terms of speed and size.
According to Palmer Bessey, associate director of the William Randolph Hearst Burn Center from the New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, infection is one of the major challenges in making synthetic skin graft products and techniques.
Bessey emphasizes that individuals with big burns are prone to infections. And, these infections will mess up the healing of the wound and may cause all of this expensive material to fail.
To work, this new material will also need to survive infections and would also leave fewer scars than the traditional options.