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A WFIRM technician operates the mobile bio printer for skin printing on a limb demo.
Health Science Technology

Mobile Bedside Bioprinter Can Print New Skin Directly Into Wounds

Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) scientists have created a mobile skin 3D bioprinting system. It allows bi-layered skin to be printed directly into a wound. This breakthrough type of treatment would use a patient’s own cells to “print” new skin. Not only that, but it is also mobile which means it can be wheeled right to the bedside to treat wounds. The team published their findings in Scientific Reports.

Sean Murphy, Ph.D., a WFIRM assistant professor who was lead author of the paper, explains:

“The unique aspect of this technology is the mobility of the system and the ability to provide on-site management of extensive wounds by scanning and measuring them in order to deposit the cells directly where they are needed to create skin.”

Handburn

The new technology is truly impressive. The ink they place into the 3D bioprinter is made up of the patient’s own cells and a hydrogel substrate. This is possible because the major skin cells – dermal fibroblasts and epidermal keratinocytes – can be easily isolated from a sample of the patient’s uninjured tissue.

Fibroblasts are cells that contribute to the formation of connective tissue fibers. They synthesize the extracellular matrix and collagen that play a critical role in wound healing. Keratinocytes are the predominant cells found in the epidermis – the outermost layer of the skin.

Next, a device scans the wound using integrated imaging technology. It then feeds the data into the software to tell the print heads where to deliver cells layer-by-layer into the wound. The system replicates and accelerates the formation of normal skin structure and function.

The current way to treat wounds and burns is with skin grafts. Adequacy of wound coverage is not very consistent with this method because sometimes there is limited availability of healthy skin to harvest. Of course, there is always the option of skin grafts from donors, but there’s always the risk that donor grafts will be rejected by the patient. In contrast, with the WFIRM 3D bioprinter system, since the patient’s own cells were used, there’s no problem of tissues being rejected.

James Yoo, M.D., Ph. D, who led the research team and co-authored the paper, said:

“If you deliver the patient’s own cells, they do actively contribute to wound healing by organizing up front to start the healing process much faster. While there are other types of wound healing products available to treat wounds and help them close, those products don’t actually contribute directly to the creation of skin.”

Furthermore, skin grafts also produce scars, and the procedure takes a long time and is horribly painful. The bioprinter skin would be a much quicker option.

WFIRM Director Anthony Atala, M.D., and a co-author of the paper said:

“The technology has the potential to eliminate the need for painful skin grafts that cause further disfigurement for patients suffering from large wounds or burns. A mobile bioprinter that can provide on-site management of extensive wounds could help to accelerate the delivery of care and decrease costs for patients.”

A close-up view of the skin bioprinter nozzle.
“A close-up view of the skin bioprinter nozzle.” (CREDIT: WFIRM)

These are exciting times we live in. A WFIRM press release states:

“Imagine a day when a bioprinter filled with a patient’s own cells can be wheeled right to the bedside to treat large wounds or burns by printing skin, layer by layer, to begin the healing process. That day is not far off.”

The researchers have already demonstrated proof-of-concept of the system by printing skin directly onto pre-clinical models. The next step is to conduct a clinical trial in humans.

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