This 3D Printer Could Revolutionize Burn Treatment

Brilliance | Dec. 08, 2017

For burn victims with third-degree wounds, healing can be a long and difficult process. Researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) have created a 3D bioprinter that can apply healthy skin cells to these injuries, making treatment faster and easier.

How Does It Work?

Third-degree burns destroy both the inner and outer layers of the skin. The traditional treatment for these injuries are skin grafts, which are pieces of healthy skin harvested from an unaffected area of the body that are used to cover the wound. But in situations where burns are especially severe and cover the entire body, there isn't always enough healthy skin available to cover the damaged area. Enter WFIRM's 3D bioprinter.

The device "print[s] skin cells onto burn wounds," but the so-called ink is actually made up of healthy skin cells, according to a WFIRM press release. "A scanner is used to determine wound size and depth. Different kinds of skin cells are found at different depths. This data guides the printer as it applies layers of the correct type of cells to cover the wound. You only need a patch of skin one-tenth the size of the burn to grow enough skin cells for skin printing."

So far, clinical trials of this printer on mice and pigs have been successful in healing wounds. "WFIRM research has shown that burn wounds healed in three weeks with bioprinting compared to five weeks for standard burn treatment," John D. Jackson, Ph.D., Associate Professor at WFIRM tells Curiosity. "Research has shown that the longer it takes to cover a wound with skin, the higher the risk of infection, complications, and death."

Still, it's unclear when the technology will be available for patients. "The skin bioprinting project is still in the development stage," Jacskon says. "This technology looks very promising, but it is difficult to predict how quickly it will progress and be ready for humans. It will need to be tested further and refined before it is ready for patients."

A First Step

The printer is part one of WFIRM's efforts to help military troops wounded on the battlefield with their advances in regenerative medicine. In 2006, Lake Forest scientists were the first in the world to successfully implant laboratory grown organs into humans, when they implanted bladders grown from a patients' own cells. In 2013, WFIRM was chosen to lead the charge of the second phase of the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM), which is a "five-year, $75 million federally funded project focus[ing] on applying regenerative medicine to battlefield injuries," according to a WFIRM press release. One of the main focal points of AFIRM is skin regeneration for burn injuries of soldiers wounded in battle. Next, "the WFIRM team will explore whether a type of stem cell found in amniotic fluid and placenta (afterbirth) is effective at healing wounds."

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