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Need a band aid? No, thanks, I’ll print some skin on the wound

3D skin printer. Photo credit: Liz Do


As I pointed out in yesterday’s post 3D bio-printing is advancing rapidly. There are now 3D printers to print bones and more complex organs are next.

Skin printing has been the first application of bio-printing because is is basically a 2d printing affair, however it is now being refined and it is definitively moving in a 3D direction (watch the clip) thus allowing the restoration of deep wounds.

The equipment required is still bulky and usually the approach is to create a digital copy of the wound (of the area to be covered by the new skin), have the printers print it and then a surgeon grafting the skin on the wound.

Toronto researchers have decided to take a different approach: they have created a portable printer on which the doctor insert a cartridge (whose ink can be made of the patient skin cells – in principle stem cells can be used to replace skin cells – , retrieved from a small area and then cultured to multiply them) and then use the printer to layer the “skin” directly on the wound.

The printer looks like a duct tape dispenser, weights about a kg and has two rolling wheels to help the layering of the artificial skin at a speed of a bout one cm per second (that’s pretty fast!),

The ink contains fibrin and collagen and as it is mixed and deposited with living cells it gets covered by a tissue to protect the wound.

Interestingly the researchers have also considered the business side and are thinking to charge for the ink, rather than for the printer (sound familiar? Yes it does!).

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.