In space — at least on Star Trek — no one can hear you apply a band-aid. That’s too low tech. When a Star Fleet officer gets an ouchie, the real or holographic doctor waves a dermal regenerator over the afflicted area, and new skin magically appears. Science fiction, huh? Maybe not. A group of scientists from Canada recently published a paper on a handheld instrument for depositing “skin precursor sheets” over full-thickness burns. The paper is behind a paywall and if you don’t know how to get it or don’t want to get it, you can see a video from the University of Toronto, below.
Although they use the term 3D printing, the device is more like a paint roller. Several substances merge together in the print head and lay down on the burn in broad stripes.
The machine is meant for people with full-thickness burns. These are burns that destroy both the outer and inner layers of your skin and often occur over very large areas. The team thinks the device could be in real use within five years. They have already gone through ten prototype designs.
Here’s a brief description of the machine from the paper:
The fibrin-based bioink is permissive for cell viability and proliferation and is cross-linked with a thrombin solution. The compact (20 cm × 11 cm × 15 cm) and light (1.4 kg) instrument is operated with one hand.
The operator holds the instrument on the handle such that the soft wheel to contacts the wound bed. Upon engaging the toggle switch, the wheel rotates at velocity V, guiding the deposition process. Simultaneously, the bioink and cross-linker stored on-board in separate syringes are co-delivered at the respective flow rates QB and QC. The solutions then pass through flexible
tubing to separate inlets of the microfluidic printhead that trails the wheel. Within the printhead, they are distributed through a bifurcated channel network towards a parallel array of microchannels at the exit that deposit a uniform thickness skin precursor sheet conformal to the wound bed, covered with the crosslinker.
Because the widths of the printhead and deposited sheet exceed the width of the wheel, arbitrarily wide wounds can be covered by successive side-by-side sheet deposition. The deposited sheets are visually distinguishable from the wound immediately after leaving the printhead, allowing the user to adjust
the printhead position to ensure neighboring layers to be deposited without gap.