Printing Skin Cells on Burn Wounds

Skin is the body's largest organ. Loss of the skin barrier results in fluid and heat loss and the risk of infection. The traditional treatment for deep burns is to cover them with healthy skin harvested from another part of the body. But in cases of extensive burns, there often isn't enough healthy skin to harvest.

Research Significance

Current treatment options are unable to fully address the needs of combat burn care or extensive burns suffered in severe traumas. Substitute skin products are available, but they are limited in size and some require a lengthy preparation time. With traditional skin grafts, many burn patients don't have enough unburned skin to harvest grafts. A new approach is needed to immediately stabilize the wound and promote healing.

Research Approach and Goals

The goal of the project is to bring the technology to soldiers who need it within the next five years.

Research Highlights and Innovation

During phase I of Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM), Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) scientists designed, built and tested a printer designed to print skin cells on to burn wounds. The "ink" is actually different kinds of skin cells. A scanner is used to determine wound size and depth. Different kinds of skin cells are found at different depths. This data guides the printer as it applies layers of the correct type of cells to cover the wound. You only need a patch of skin one-tenth the size of the burn to grow enough skin cells for skin printing.

During Phase II of AFIRM, the WFIRM team will explore whether a type of stem cell found in amniotic fluid and placenta (afterbirth) is effective at healing wounds.

Printing Skin Cells on Burns

This demonstration, which is not a human hand, illustrates how skin cells are printed directly onto a wound.