In one of the most interesting scientific breakthroughs of the year so far, researchers have successfully tested a handheld 3D printer that can print layers of skin using stem cells. The printer can be used to treat burns victims and speed up the healing process for other injuries.
This groundbreaking technology is the work of a team of researchers from the University of Toronto Engineering and Sunnybrook Hospital. The researchers have already tested the safety and efficacy of the printer in trials and have published their results in the journal Biofabrication.
The 3D printer uses a “bioink” that is comprised of mesenchymal stroma cells (MSCs). These stem cells have the ability to differentiate into skin cells, which promotes the generation of healthy tissue and reduces the likelihood of scars forming.
This research team, led by PhD candidate Richard Cheng, first released a prototype of their 3D printer in 2018. It is the world’s first device capable of generating human tissue in situ. The technology the team has developed is also extremely efficient, completing the process in a few minutes.
Project supervisor, Professor Axel Guenther, explains the importance of the breakthrough, saying “Previously, we proved that we could deposit cells onto a burn, but there wasn’t any proof that there were any wound-healing benefits — now we’ve demonstrated that.”
This new technology could replace the current treatment for most burns, which involves taking skin from other parts of the patient’s body and transplanting them over the burnt sections.
However, the researchers did note that the treatment wouldn’t be suitable for very large burns or full-thickness burns which have damaged the lower layers of the skin.
The team has altered their 3D printer technology 10 times since 2018, continually improving its performance. They hope to reach a point where it can easily be used by surgeons in an operating room. The current iteration of the device features a single-use microfluidic printhead, which keeps the device sterile and ideal for surgical environments.
The team hopes to improve the device even more, reducing the amount of scarring from burns and improving how quickly burn wounds can heal. They hope that this technology will be widely available within the next five years.