Printing skin

Image by The U.S. Army via Flickr

Technology is advancing so fast there doesn’t seem to be a day that goes by without a weird-but-true story making headlines.

Like this one; scientists using inkjet printers to print skin for wounded soldiers.

Researchers at Wake Forest University have found a way to use everyday ink-jet printers to quickly create skin for soldiers with life-threatening burns from the battlefield.

Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine have figured out how to use sterile ink-jet cartridges and printer heads to bioprint skin cells in three-dimensional patterns, building up the tissue in layers, said Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the institute said in an interview.

Using modified ink-jet printers has greatly accelerated the method of growing tissues, which in the past has been laboriously done by hand. Burns account for about one in 10 war wounds, so the demand for speed has driven research in skin grafting. The Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine funded the Wake Forest project.

The process basically works this way: Different types of skin cells are placed in wells of a sterilized ink cartridge. The printer is programmed to arrange the cells in a specific order, an innovative adaption of technology that allows scientists to precisely arrange multiple cell types and other tissue components into predetermined locations.

The institute has adapted another common piece of office equipment to replicate skin cells: a scanner that when placed on a patient, copies skin much like an office photocopier reproduces documents, Atala said.

To date, the institute only has tested the bioprinting in mice, and will require Food and Drug Administration approval before it can be used in humans, something that could take years, Atala said. (

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