Researchers use modified inkjet printer to "print" new skin for burn victims

(NBC) - IED explosions are an all-to-common scene in the Middle East. Soldiers are often terribly burned in IED blasts and face months of painful burn treatments and rehabilitation.

Skin grafting is the most common solution -- but is riddled with side effects like scarring and high infection rates. Researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are working on a whole new approach.

"We're trying to work a new technology that can generate an exact copy of what the burn patient is missing," Kyle Binder, a research associate, said.

Copy is the key word -- drawing inspiration from, of all things, a desktop printer.

"The concept is one where you use your typical desktop inkjet printer, but instead of using ink in the cartridge you use cells, you use a printer to keep printing the tissue one layer at a time," Dr. Anthony Atala, the director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, said.

Dr. Atala and his team can position their device anywhere a burn patient needs new skin and bio-print the wound with new skin cells. So far the results are promising.

"Wounds repaired using bioprinting healed three weeks faster," Binder said.

"One of the major challenges we face with burns and skin injuries is having enough tissue to replace and seal the patient off from the outside environment. By having technology such as these with the printing you're able to deliver quickly and efficiently skin to patients who need them," Dr. Atala said.

Bioprinting is highly experimental -- and has only been tested in mice.

Working under a grant from the army -- the researchers hope their new spin on office technology will be able to help wounded soldiers within the next ten years.

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