Handheld Skin Printer Could Help Heal Burn Victims

What if wounds can be treated with a swipe of a handheld device? That's just what a team from the University of Toronto set to find out when they developed a handheld device that deposits skin building substances directly on the affected area.

This handheld device works very much like a tape dispenser that continuously deposits a thin layer of collagen and other proteins, and could soon see some use as a way to treat patient's wounds, especially those of burn victims.

Pixabay/sasintUniversity of Toronto researchers have invented a handheld skin printer that deposits even layers of skin tissue, which might provide and alternative to skin grafts to cover and heal deep wounds.

The team from the University of Toronto believes that this could be the start of a device that can heal tissue on the spot, settling in and starting the healing process in two minutes or less.

"Most current 3D bioprinters are bulky, work at low speeds, are expensive and are incompatible with clinical application," explained Associate Professor Axel Guenther, who supervised the project led by Ph.D. student Navid Hakimi alongside Dr. Marc Jeshcke, director of the Ross Tilley Burn Centre.

Details about this promising new device were recently published on the Lab on a Chip journal, as well.

Usually, patients with deep wounds or severe burn damage are normally treated with a technique called split-thickness skin grafting, which usually requires plenty of donor skin of the right match. For cases where the wound is too large, the lack of donor skin usually presents a huge problem.

Pixabay/kaboompicsThe research to develop the device, which was recently published in the journal Lab on a Chip, was based on 3d bioprinting technology adapted to be cheaper and smaller.

In some cases, patients will have to deal with portions of their wounds left uncovered. This new device could fill in that gap, literally in this case, as Engadget pointed out.

This new handheld device is based on current 3d bioprinting technology, which the team has now miniaturized to the point that it can be used one-handed. It has a tip that resembles the business end of a white-out tape dispenser, but instead of white-out tape, the device outs out an even layer of "tissue sheets."

These tissue sheets are made up of stripes of "bio-ink," which are made up of a mix of proteins and biomaterials that form the bulk of skin layers, as well as other substances that promote healing.

"Our skin printer promises to tailor tissues to specific patients and wound characteristics," says Hakimi, the Ph.D. student who came up with the device. He and his team now plan to try out a few improvements, including expanding the size of the applicator to cover even larger wounds.

"And it's very portable," he added. As it is now, the handheld skin printer is about the size of a small shoebox and weighs less than a kilogram. In its current form, it already requires minimal operator training, which might hint at a potential for use in emergency sites as well.

This video shows the 3D skin printer in action, courtesy of Navid Hakimi via GIPHY.