The skin bio-printer itself is expected to be a converted office printer, but with the addition of a three-dimensional “elevator” that builds on damaged tissue with fresh layers of healthy skin. The skin printing process will first see a skin sample taken from the patient. The sample will be about half the size of a postage stamp, from which skin cells will be separated and replicated on their own in a specialized environment.
The printer is then placed over the wound, allowing the flat-bed scanner to “move back and forth and put cells on you,” Atala said. The cells then harden, mature and grow into new skin.
It is not just the Wake Forest Institute that is working on this procedure. Other universities, including Cornell University and the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, are also working on similar projects and will announce their research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington this weekend. It is expected that announcements will include the possibility of organs being grown as well as skin.