University of Toronto Creates ‘3D Skin Printer’ to Revolutionize Wound Healing

University of Toronto researchers have created a 3D skin printer to help wounds heal
University of Toronto/Liz Do

UToronto researchers have developed a 3D printer that promises to change everything about the healing process of serious — even disfiguring — wounds.

Today, victims of deep wounds, such as catastrophic burns, require healthy donor skin that can be grafted into their own. The scarring is significant, the healing process difficult, and that is assuming everything goes perfectly. Tomorrow, those same survivors could have new skin printed onto their bodies in about two minutes.

Research led by University of Toronto Ph.D. student Navid Hakimi under the supervision of Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering Professor Axel Guenther, in collaboration with Faculty of Medicine Immunology Professor Dr. Marc Jeschke — who also serves as director of Sunnybrook Hospital’s Ross Tilley Burn Center — was published in the Lab on a Chip journal.

Split-thickness skin grafts are a vital part of modern medical care, but an imperfect solution at best. Enough skin is rarely available, and the scarring remains very significant even in the best possible scenarios. And while synthetic tissue does exist, Guenther explained that because most bioprinters are “bulky, work at low speeds, [and] are expensive,” they are, unfortunately, “incompatible with clinical application.”

But the UToronto team’s invention may well have changed all of that in a single, revolutionary leap. Most similar in appearance to a white-out tape dispenser, the device is no bigger than a shoe box, and weighs about two pounds. The handheld 3D bioprinter produces strips of “bio ink” containing both collagen and fibrin. It requires only the most minimal training to be effectively used, and none of the washing or incubation needed by current tech.

Further developments will increase the size of the wound coverage available, and the team is already looking toward the possibility of human trials. With continued effort, this little device could change the face of catastrophic wound care. For those suffering, it means hope.

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