A handheld 3D skin printer was developed that covers wounds with a uniform sheet of biomaterial, stripe by stripe. The bio ink dispensed by the roller is composed of mesenchymal stroma cells (MSCs) — stem cells that differentiate into specialized cell types depending on their environment. In this case, the MSC material promotes skin regeneration and reduces scarring. The device forms tissue in situ, depositing and setting in place in two minutes or less.
The current method of care for burns is autologous skin grafting, which requires transplantation of healthy skin from other parts of the body onto the wound. But large, full-body burns pose a greater challenge. Full-thickness burns are characterized by the destruction of both the outermost and innermost layers of the skin; these burns often cover a significant portion of the body. With large burns, there is not sufficient healthy skin available, which could lead to patient deaths.
The current prototype includes a single-use microfluidic printhead to ensure sterilization and a soft wheel that follows the track of the printhead, allowing for better control for wider wounds. Next, researchers want to further reduce the amount of scarring, on top of helping with wound healing. The main focus moving forward will be on the in-vivo side.
The handheld skin printer could be seen in a clinical setting within the next five years including use in an operating room.