Wake Forest researchers 'print' skin cells

Although printing organs and tissues may sound like science fiction, Wake Forest researchers have developed a device akin to the an office inkjet printer that can spray skin cells directly onto burn victims, quickly protecting the wound and serving as an alternative to skin grafts.

"We literally print the cells directly onto the wound," said student Kyle Binder, who helped design the device. "We can put specific cells where they need to go." They have mounted the device, which has so far only been tested on mice, in a frame that can be wheeled over a patient in a hospital bed, Reuters reports.

Tests on mice showed the spray system, called bioprinting, close and heal wounds quickly, the researchers reported at the Translational Regenerative Medicine Forum.

According to the Wake Forest's Institute for Regenerative Medicine website, living tissues are composed of multiple cell types arranged in a very specific order in three-dimensional space. Maintaining this structure is important to ensure that engineered tissue and organs have normal function.

Inkjet printing technology offers a possible solution, as it allows researchers to precisely arrange multiple cell types and other tissue components into pre-determined sites. Multiple cells types are placed in the wells of a sterilized ink cartridge and the printer is programmed to arrange these cells in a specific order. The application is of particular use for burns in soldiers returning from battle. The researchers are working with the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine to advance the technology for this very purpose.

The team will eventually seek FDA approval to test the device on humans, says George Christ, a professor of regenerative medicine at the school, according to Reuters.

- see the technology in action
- check out Reuters' coverage