Using 3-D printing to repair deep wounds
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University of Toronto researchers have developed a handheld 3-D skin printer that deposits even layers of skin tissue to cover and heal deep wounds. The device – believed to be the first of its kind – forms tissue in situ, depositing and setting in place, within two minutes or less.

For patients with deep skin wounds, all three skin layers – the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis – may be heavily damaged. The current preferred treatment is called split-thickness skin grafting, where healthy donor skin is grafted onto the surface epidermis and part of the underlying dermis.

Split-thickness grafting on large wounds requires enough healthy donor skin to traverse all three layers, and sufficient graft skin is rarely available. This leaves a portion of the wounded area “ungrafted” or uncovered, leading to poor healing outcomes.

Although a large number of tissue-engineered skin substitutes exist, they are not yet widely used in clinical settings.

The research is led by PhD student Navid Hakimi under the supervision of professor Axel Guenther and in collaboration with Marc Jeschke, director of the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook Hospital.

The advanced technology has the potential to improve the skin-healing process and tailor to specific patients and wound characteristics.

The handheld skin printer resembles a white-out tape dispenser – except the tape roll is replaced by a microdevice that forms tissue sheets. Vertical stripes of “bio ink,” made up of protein-based biomaterials including collagen, the most abundant protein in the dermis, and fibrin, a protein involved in wound healing, run along the inside of each tissue sheet.

“Most current 3-D bioprinters are bulky, work at low speeds, are expensive and are incompatible with clinical application.”
Axel Guenther
University of Toronto Professor
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