UK team develops printing technique for deep wound repair

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Researchers from the Universities of Birmingham and Huddersfield in the UK have developed a method for printing artificial skin that they claim could one day be used to treat chronic wounds.

Chronic wounds are deep and difficult to repair. Often, the top of the injury heals before the bottom, so the wound collapses in on itself which, over time, can result in scar tissue and reduced skin function.

deep wound repair
Chronic wounds are deep and difficult to repair. Image Sudok1 via stock.adobe.com

Whilst researchers around the world have explored a number of methods for printing skin, the new technique is said to be the first of its kind to simulate three layers of skin: the hypodermis, the dermis, and the epidermis.

"You effectively have three different cell types. They all grow at different speeds," said University of Huddersfield’s Professor Alan Smith. "If you try to produce tri-layered structures, it can be very difficult to provide each of the requirements of each different layer."

To solve this problem, the team used a process called suspended layer additive manufacturing (SLAM) to create a gel-like material to support the skin equivalent, twisting and altering the structure of the gel as it formed to create a bed of particles that can then support a second phase of gel injection.

During printing, the skin layers are deposited within the support gel, which holds everything in place. After printing, the team washed away the support material, leaving behind the layered skin equivalent.

deep wound repair
The suspended layer additive manufacturing technique uses gel to support the skin equivalent as it is printed. CREDIT: Moakes et al.

If the researchers moved a needle through the supporting gel, it repaired itself faster than other similar techniques. This results in higher resolution printing than previous methods and allows for the printing of complicated skin structures.

The authors tested the skin substitute by cutting a hole in pig tissue and printing a skin equivalent to fill the hole. After culturing the model system for 14 days, they saw signs of wound repair.

"We used a stain that allowed us to quantify the integration we got between original material and tissue," said Birmingham’s Professor Liam Grover. "We were able to demonstrate some integration even after a short period of time."

The next step is to test longer, appropriate models for chronic deep wounds. The ultimate goal is to repair human skin and reduce scarring for all patient scenarios.

A paper on the work is published in the American Institute of Physics journal APL Bioengineering.

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