Desktop Printers May Soon Be Used to Restore Human Skin

Researchers at Wake Forest University are developing a method of printing skin tissue onto burn victims for faster and more thorough healing.


Scientists have created a new use for outdated ink-jet printers. They are putting the finishing touches on techniques that will allow doctors to print skin onto burn victims. Sound like something out of the future? It’s not too far from becoming an everyday treatment.

Researchers at Wake Forest University have discovered a way to use ink-jet printers to print proteins directly onto a burn victim’s body. By using a gel base instead of paper and protein-based skin cells instead of ink, they can now print layers of skin that will be absorbed into a patient’s body and eventually regenerate on their own. For burn victims, this technology can be a life-saving one that speeds up the healing process.

How does it work? For now, ordinary office supply store print heads are being fitted with test tubes full of the patient’s own skin cells in a solution instead of ink. The solution is then sprayed onto a gel sheet. The base will then absorb into the patient’s tissues and cause less infection and rejection than a skin graft. This process will also eliminate the uncomfortable tightness that skin grafts often create.

As of now, the process is only being tested on mice. When a burn situation was treated via printer technology, now being called “bioprinting,” the mice healed much faster than similarly injured mice allowed to heal the old ways.

The military is particularly interested in this technology, as many battlefield injuries that result in deaths involve severe burns. Researchers are also beginning to reproduce bone tissue and organs by this same bioprinting method. But in the case of organs, they’ll need blood vessels to connect to in order to function. More testing will be needed to make organ printing viable.

It still remains to be seen if scientists will be able to grow enough skin quickly enough to cover large burn areas. And more research is needed to determine if this process will work on all types of skin tissue.