Students have developed a new way to treat burn victims with artificial skin grafts.

Photo Credit: University of Toronto

Photo Credit: University of Toronto

3-D printing is once again proving to be useful in the medical field as engineers from the University of Toronto have created artificial skin grafts using a bioprinter.

Rather than trying to replicate real human skin grafts, the team used the PrintAlive Bioprinter to create a "living bandage" made of hydrogel. Working alongside associate professor Axel Guenther and burn surgeon Dr. Marc Jeschke, students Arianna McAllister, Lian Leng and Boyang Zhang developed a special print cartridge for the project.

The International Business Times reports that a bioprinter uses a patient's keratinocytes and fibroblast cells to create a biopolymer in a 3-D structure that mimics the epidermal and dermal layers of the patient's skin to print out patterns. This makes the process faster and requires less cells than if they were to print out a continuous sheet of skin cells.

The actual cartridges have two separate channels with skin cells, one for the epidermal layer and one for the dermal layer. Each channel contains the liquid environment required for the specific type of cell. When the liquid squirts out of the printer, it solidifies into a gel with both layers printed on top of each other. This creates a biodegradable wound dressing to treat burns.

The PrintAlive Bioprinter improved the way wounds healed in mice with compromised immune systems. The team will next test skin grafts in pigs. Human clinical trials are expected to be about two to three years away.