Future Tense: Bioprinting

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media , March 16, 2011
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Researchers: Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC, are heading up the project, which is part of the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

How it works: Bioprinting adapts various printing techniques to create biological constructs. One technique uses an adapted inkjet printer—but instead of ink, the cartridge is filled with cells that print tissues and organs in a shape based on drawings created in programs such as PowerPoint. Researchers are using the process to print skin cells on burn wounds. They use a laser to scan the wound to “map” the size and depth of the wound. A computer then controls the release of cells from the reservoirs into the print head, where they are delivered directly onto the burn site.

Purpose: The goal is to develop a treatment that can quickly cover and stabilize a wound. Research has shown that the longer it takes to cover a wound with skin, the higher the risk of infection, complications, and death.  

Potential improvement: It would allow doctors to quickly cover a burn wound and promote healing. It would build skin in place, rather than having to surgically move skin from one part of the body to another.

What’s Next: It is not ready for use on human patients. There are some early results, though. Mice with wounds similar to burn wounds that were treated with the bioprinting technique healed in three weeks compared to five weeks for animals that did not receive the treatment. Researchers are studying the most effective source of cells. The possibilities include using skin cells from the patient, skin cell bank, or stem cells found in amniotic fluid or placenta. Initially, the treatment will be tested on new burns, but it could be used to treat scarring from previous burns.

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