(Photography by Kevin Van Paassen)
When Dr. Marc Jeschke sees patients with severe burns covering a large part of their bodies, there’s usually only one treatment option.
“In burn care, we’re generally limited to using skin grafts,” says Dr. Jeschke, medical director of the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook. “We take healthy skin from the patient and use it to cover their burned skin. It’s quite painful for them because you’re just creating more wounds. Sometimes, there isn’t even enough healthy skin left for us to use.”
However, a new study may completely revolutionize the way burn patients receive treatment for such serious injuries. Together with researchers from the University of Toronto, Dr. Jeschke has worked to develop a handheld 3-D skin printer that deposits even layers of skin tissue to cover and heal deep wounds.
“This handheld device is a significant improvement from previous printers,” he notes.
The device deposits a thin layer of gel containing the patient’s skin cells directly on top of the wound, forming new tissue. It is believed to be the first device of its kind, allowing skin cells to set in place within two minutes or less. The hope is that by putting the right cells in the right place, wounds will heal faster, helping patients to leave the hospital and return to their lives more quickly.
“We’re also hoping patients will experience less pain and reduced scarring,” adds Dr. Jeschke.
Now, the handheld 3-D skin printer will be tested to determine whether it can make its way into the clinical arena. While Dr. Jeschke estimates this step may take several years, it will be a game changer for burn and wound care.
“This project demonstrates what collaboration between engineering, biology and physicians can achieve,” says Dr. Jeschke, “and that, together, we can have a profound clinical impact.”