Researchers in the US are using old inkjet printers to produce sheets of human skin to be used on burn victims. They think that this 'skin-printing' method will minimize rejections by patients and reduce post-operative complications. In this article, the Wall Street Journal (paid registration needed) writes that while the technology is still in its early stages, it could be used clinically within two years. This could be a life-saving technology for the 20% of burn patients who have the most extensive burns. Considering that each year, some 45,000 people are hospitalized with burns in the U.S. alone, this 'skin-printing' method is a very useful advance in regenerative medicine.
Here is the beginning of the article.
Using old, modified printers, a group of university researchers is developing a way to make sheets of human skin that can be applied to burns. The "skin-printing" method aims to produce a sturdier skin than the currently used skin-graft method, minimizing postoperative complications.
Today, many burn patients receive grafts of skin that are produced from healthy skin cells taken from unburned parts of their bodies. Other methods involve artificial skin and skin from human donors, but the body often rejects these substitutes.
The skin-printing researchers have rigged up older-model printers from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Canon Inc. to spray cells -- rather than ink -- onto a gauze scaffolding, creating a sheet of living tissue. The researchers prefer the older printers because their spray nozzles have larger holes that are less likely to damage the cells.
||Here you can see how the three-dimensional tissues are printed (Credit: Trends in Biotechnology). Additionally, you may want to look at this short movie depicting the printing process.|
Here are more details about the status of the skin-printing process.
Printable-skin research is in its early stages. But one of the researchers, Anthony Atala of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., thinks the technology could be used clinically within a couple of years. Still, he cautions: "It always takes longer than you hope."
Skin printing starts out using the same cell-cultivation technology that is used for skin grafting. First, a biopsy is taken from an area of undamaged skin on the patient's body. Those cells are grown out onto a piece of gauze or a degradable sheet of collagen, and then incubated in an oven-like device to create sheets of skin, a process that can take a few weeks.
"It takes several weeks to grow the cells, regardless of the method," says Dr. Atala, who is working on the technology with Thomas Boland of Clemson University in South Carolina and Vladimir Mironov of the Medical University of South Carolina.
For more information, here is a link to the abstract of the research paper named "Organ printing: computer-aided jet-based 3D tissue engineering" and published by Trends in Biotechnology.
And for more details about how the skin-printing technology can also be used in other ways, from organ transplant to disease treatment, you can read "Ink-jet printing creates tubes of living tissue" in New Scientist or "Experts hail tissue-printing work of S.C. scientists" from Charleston.Net.
Finally, here is the conclusion of the Wall Street Journal.
Each year, some 45,000 people are hospitalized with burns in the U.S., according to the American Burn Association. In theory, printable skin would be a significant life-saving advance for the 20% of burn patients who have the most extensive burns, says Dr. Yurt of Cornell's burn center.
Sources: Michelle Rama, Dow Jones Newswires, for WSJ.com, August 11, 2004; Trends in Biotechnology, Volume 21, Issue 4 , April 2003, Pages 157-161; Charles Choi, New Scientist, January 22, 2003; Lynne Langley, Charleston.Net, February 17, 2003; and various websites