Good news for burn victims—a new handheld 3D printer is helping change the way doctors treat large burns. The machine deposits sheets of skin to cover the wounds, and its “bio ink” can accelerate the healing process.
The device was developed by a team of researchers from the University of Toronto Engineering and Sunnybrook Hospital. It covers wounds with a sheet of biomaterial, stripe by stripe. Bio ink made of stem cells that become other cell types depending on their environment (mesenchymal stroma cells) limits scarring and encourages skin regrowth.
The sheet is a major step forward for the team, which is led by Richard Cheng under the supervision of Professor Axel Guenther, and in close collaboration with Dr. Marc Jeschke, director of the Ross Tilley Burn Centre. The team’s first prototype of the skin printer was shown in 2018. It is believed to be the first device of its kind. Since 2018, the printer has gone through 10 revisions, with the current prototype including 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.”
Autologous skin grafting is the current method of care for burns. This requires transplanting healthy skin from other body parts onto the wound. However, when it comes to large-scale burns, there is often not enough healthy skin available—and that could prevent patients from recovering.
Cheng says that he and his colleagues want to “further reduce the amount of scarring, on top of helping with wound healing. Our main focus moving forward will be on the in-vivo side.”
Jeschke believes the handheld skin printer could be seen in a clinical setting within the next five years. “Once it’s used in an operating room, I think this printer will be a game-changer in saving lives. With a device like this, it could change the entirety of how we practice burn and trauma care.”