As I pointed out in yesterday’s post 3D bio-printing is advancing rapidly. There are now 3D printers to print bones and more complex organs are next.
Skin printing has been the first application of bio-printing because is is basically a 2d printing affair, however it is now being refined and it is definitively moving in a 3D direction (watch the clip) thus allowing the restoration of deep wounds.
The equipment required is still bulky and usually the approach is to create a digital copy of the wound (of the area to be covered by the new skin), have the printers print it and then a surgeon grafting the skin on the wound.
Toronto researchers have decided to take a different approach: they have created a portable printer on which the doctor insert a cartridge (whose ink can be made of the patient skin cells – in principle stem cells can be used to replace skin cells – , retrieved from a small area and then cultured to multiply them) and then use the printer to layer the “skin” directly on the wound.
The printer looks like a duct tape dispenser, weights about a kg and has two rolling wheels to help the layering of the artificial skin at a speed of a bout one cm per second (that’s pretty fast!),
The ink contains fibrin and collagen and as it is mixed and deposited with living cells it gets covered by a tissue to protect the wound.
Interestingly the researchers have also considered the business side and are thinking to charge for the ink, rather than for the printer (sound familiar? Yes it does!).