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Skin Made From Portable Bioprinter

February 22, 2011

Scientists are using the technology behind ink-jet printers for inspiration in finding ways to build sheets of skin that could one day be used to treat a host of skin ailments and injuries.

On possible technique would involve using a portable bioprinter that could be carried to wounded soldiers on the battlefield where it could scan the injury, take cell samples and print a section of skin that would be compatible for the wounded patient, experts in the field said Sunday.

Other techniques could be the use of a 3D printer combining donor cells, gel and other materials to build cartilage.

Scientists recently showed off a 3D printer working at building a prototype of a human ear during a demonstration at a Washington science conference.

The machine would work much like an ink-jet printer, said Hod Lipson of Cornell University in New York. “It spits out plastic to gradually build an object layer by layer… after a couple of hours you end up with a real physical object that you can hold in your hand.”

“Just imagine — if you could take cells from a donor, culture them, put them into an ink and recreate an implant that is alive and made of the original cells from the donor — how useful that would be in terms of avoiding rejection,” said Lipson. “That is where we are going. Let’s see how far we can go.”

Scientists have used the technology in animals and it has shown some promise, especially with printed cartilage, which is fairly simple in composition and is tough so it can withstand possible rigors in printing.

“There are very severe limitations,” Lipson told AFP news agency. “We are right now limited to cells… that can handle being printed.”

James Yoo, of Wake Forest University in North Carolina, said his team’s research has shown some positive results in repairing skin in both mouse and pig models.

“One approach is to directly deploy cells to the wound site and the other approach is to build a tissue construct outside the body and transfer it into the body,” said Yoo.

The technology works first by using a scanner that takes a measure of the affected area and identifies the depth and extent of the injury, and then informs the bioprinter of how many layers of cells need to be printed, said Yoo.

The advances are still in the early stages and require much more research and refinement before they are ready for use in humans, both scientists said.

“One of the challenges that we will eventually face is like anything else, when you are trying to transfer the technology into the body, how can we create and connect those tissues?” said Yoo. “Whatever you put in the body has to be connected with the body’s blood vessels, blood supply and oxygen.”

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