Researchers at the University of Toronto have developed a handheld 3D printer that can deposit a stem cell-loaded bioink onto wounds, such as burns, to promote tissue healing. The device acts like a paint roller, and a clinician could use it to deposit the biomaterial in even stripes on a wound surface. A recent study has shown that the deposited bioink can help tissue to heal. The researchers hope that the technique could help to heal large burns for which it is difficult to use skin grafts.
At present, skin grafts are employed to replace tissue lost in burns. However, for large burns that cover much of the body, finding enough healthy skin to cover the wounded tissue can be a challenge. “With big burns, you don’t have sufficient healthy skin available, which could lead to patient deaths,” said Marc Jeschke, a researcher involved in the project.
To address this, these researchers have developed a handheld device with the aim that it could provide a replacement for skin grafts. They revealed the first prototype of the device in 2018, but have only recently shown that their treatment can regenerate wounded tissue. “Previously, we proved that we could deposit cells onto a burn, but there wasn’t any proof that there were any wound-healing benefits — now we’ve demonstrated that,” said Axel Guenther, another researcher involved in the study.
The device consists of a single-use microfluidic printhead that helps to preserve the sterility of the process. At the tip of the printer, a soft wheel roller deposits the printed biomaterial onto the wound surface. The deposited bioink sets on the wound within two minutes, helping to keep it in place. The biomaterial contains mesenchymal stroma cells, which can differentiate and help to promote wound healing while reducing the development of scars.
In this recent study, published in journal Biofabrication, the researchers found that the bioink could promote regeneration in full thickness wounds, in which both outer and inner layers of the skin have been destroyed.
The researchers hope that they can bring the technology to the clinic soon, potentially within the next five years. “Once it’s used in an operating room, I think this printer will be a game changer in saving lives,” said Jeschke. “With a device like this, it could change the entirety of how we practice burn and trauma care.”
Here’s a video that University of Toronto released showing off the new printer: