A bioprinter that uses one’s own skin cells to create new layers of skin directly over a wound has recently been created by Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) researchers. This device could offer a new treatment option for the millions of Americans affected by chronic, large or non-healing wounds including diabetic pressure ulcers and burn injuries common in military personnel. These findings were reported in the journal Scientific Reports.
The technique begins with the harvesting of major skin cells known as dermal fibroblasts and epidermal keratinocytes from a biopsy of the patient’s healthy skin tissue. The scientists then expand these cells and mix them with a hydrogel compound. These cells are then placed into a bioprinter, which scans the patient’s wound, imports this data to its software, which then directs the bioprinter where to place the printed skin layers. The result is a uniquely printed material matching the area missing within the wound with no need for a skin graft.
The scanning tool used with the mobile printer is a handheld device that the operator manually moves to collect data regarding the wound. The authors note that the device’s portability is one of its strongest attributes.
“The unique aspect of this technology is the mobility of the system and the ability to provide on-site management of extensive wounds by scanning and measuring them in order to deposit the cells directly where they are needed to create skin,” explained lead author Sean Murphy, PhD.
The scientists demonstrated the device’s capability by printing skin directly onto pre-clinical models of wounds. Next, the team must display the system’s efficacy in humans. Skin grafts are currently the technique of choice for most physicians in treating burns and wounds, but it is often challenging to fully cover the wound when there is a limited amount of healthy skin to harvest. In such cases donor grafts are another option; however, immune rejection and scar formation are adverse outcomes commonly tethered with this technique.
The bioprinter detailed in this paper offer a potential avenue for treating such patients, with new skin formation radiating out from the center of the wound. These new skin cells are printed onto the wound using the patient’s own cells as well, eliminating the risk of immune rejection.
“The technology has the potential to eliminate the need for painful skin grafts that cause further disfigurement for patients suffering from large wounds or burns,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., WFIRM Director and a co-author of the paper. “A mobile bioprinter that can provide on-site management of extensive wounds could help to accelerate the delivery of care and decrease costs for patients.”
“If you deliver the patient’s own cells, they do actively contribute to wound healing by organizing up front to start the healing process much faster,” said James Yoo, M.D., Ph. D, leader of the research team and co-author. “While there are other types of wound healing products available to treat wounds and help them close, those products don’t actually contribute directly to the creation of skin.”
— Berci Meskó, MD, PhD (@Berci) March 12, 2019