Scientists at the Wake Forest Center for Regenerative Medicine have created a way of - literally - printing skin cells onto burn wounds.
The longer it takes to cover a wound with skin, the higher the risk of infection, complications, and death. And, while substitute skin products are available, they are limited in size and some take a long time to prepare.
With traditional skin grafts, many burn patients don't have enough unburned skin to harvest grafts.
The new technique involves taking mass-produced skin cells and printing them onto the affected area, where they grow together into a layer of fully-functioning skin.
"In our project to 'print' skin cells on burn wounds, we place cells in vials, rather than in cartridges, and print them through an ink jet printer head," says the team.
"A laser first scans the wound, so that a map can be created to direct the printer precisely where to place each cell type."
The team has successfully tested the skin printer on mice with wounds similar to burns. They found that, using the bioprinting technique, mice healed in three weeks, compared with five weeks for mice that hadn't received the treatment.
The skin printer is being funded by the Department of Defense, in the hope that it could one day be used to treat injured soldiers on the battlefield. However, the team says it's likely to be several years before it can be put into action.