Skin covers the most area of a human’s body and is considered the largest organ. If a person’s skin is damaged over large areas of the body like when someone is burned, it can induce life threatening symptoms. If this occurs, the person must get through very painful skin grafts harvested from their own bodies or using donor skin.
Researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are working on a method to replace damaged skin with a better way – a bio-printer that actually rebuilds or “prints” human skin. The bio-printer was developed to help burn victims, as well as injured military members. Scientists at the research center said that about five to 20 percent of combat injuries are burn patients.
The team’s inspiration came from a normal desktop inkjet cartridge, but instead of ink, the cartridge for a bio-printer holds cells. The printer is in pre-clinical testing and in about five more years it could be ready to use with treating burn victims.
The prototype for the bio-printer was developed by doing modifications to a regular printer. One of the items added was a 3D elevator device that makes new skin cell by cell onto the damaged area using a series of steps.
A small amount of skin is harvested from the patient. The cells are separated and put into a special container and they are made to start replicating. Once the proper amount of cells is made, the mixture is put into the bio-printer’s cartridge and made ready for the patient. Next, the printer is put over the wounded area and it moves back and forth as it creates the skin cells over the wound.
There are other places are doing related research, such Cornell University and the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston. Their work has shown the possibility of using it for not just skin, but to create whole organs. Once that is deemed possible, then those needing organ transplants wouldn’t have to wait for years to get a new heart or other organ.