‘Skin-printing’ device could rebuild damaged, burnt skin

Monday, February 21, 2011

WASHINGTON - Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are working on a specialized skin “printing” system that could be used to rebuild damaged or burned skin.

The researchers were inspired by standard inkjet printers found in many home offices, reports the CNN.

“We started out by taking a typical desktop inkjet cartridge. Instead of ink we use cells, which are placed in the cartridge,” said Anthony Atala, director of the institute.

The project is in pre-clinical phases and may take another five years of development before it is ready to be used on human burn victims, he said.

The skin printing project is one of several projects at Wake Forest largely funded by the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine institute, which is a branch of the U.S. Department of Defense.

They developed the skin “bio-printer” by modifying a standard store-bought printer.

One modification is the addition of a three-dimensional “elevator” that builds on damaged tissue with fresh layers of healthy skin.

The skin-printing process involves several steps. First, a small piece of skin is taken from the patient. The sample is about half the size of a postage stamp, and it is taken from the patient by using a chemical solution.

Those cells are then separated and replicated on their own in a specialized environment that catalyzes this cell development.

“We expand the cells in large quantities. Once we make those new cells, the next step is to put the cells in the printer, on a cartridge, and print on the patient,” Atala said.

The printer is then placed over the wound at a distance so that it doesn’t touch the burn victim.

“It’s like a flat-bed scanner that moves back and forth and put cells on you,” said Atala.

Once the new cells have been applied, they mature and form new skin.

The device can fabricate healthy skin in anywhere from minutes to a few hours, depending on the size and type of burn, according to a 2010 report from the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

Once the skin-printing device meets federal regulations, military officials are optimistic it will benefit the general population as well as soldiers. (ANI)

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