The standard inkjet printer found in offices around the world is the inspiration for a new medical device that can help patients with severe burns. Researchers at Wake Forest University rigged up a device that can spray skin cells directly onto a burn victim's wounds, and animal trials showed that the treatment healed wounds quickly and safely. The team says this printing method could be an improvement over traditional skin grafts, which often leave serious scars. The researchers explain that the device is mounted in a frame that can be wheeled over a patient in a hospital bed. A laser then takes a reading of the wound's size and shape so that a layer of healing cells can be precisely applied, Reuters reports.
"We literally print the cells directly onto the wound," said student Kyle Binder, who helped design the device. "We can put specific cells where they need to go."
In the trials, this treatment completely closed wounds in just two weeks. The "bioprinting" device has so far only been tested on mice, but the team will soon try out the technique on pigs, whose skin is similar to that of humans. Eventually, the team expects to request FDA approval for human trials. For the treatment, the researchers first dissolved human skin cells from pieces of skin, separating out cell types like fibroblasts and keratinocytes. Reuters writes:
They put them in a nutritious solution to make them multiply and then used a system similar to a multicolor office inkjet printer to apply first a layer of fibroblasts and then a layer of keratinocytes, which form the protective outer layer of skin.
The sprayed cells not only worked themselves into the surrounding skin, they were also incorporated into the skin's hair follicles and sebaceous glands. Researchers say this may have been possible because immature stem cells were mixed in with the sprayed cells. Binder told Reuters:
"You have to give a lot of credit to the cells. When you put them into the wound, they know what to do."
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