The ability to print layers of 'skin' directly onto a patient with burns or other severe skin wounds and conditions is one step closer thanks to a new collaboration.
The technique - which could one day replace painful skin grafting - would use the patient's own stem cells in a 'bioink' that would be inserted into a specialised 3D bioprinter and applied to the wound.
Researchers from the University of Wollongong-based ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Sciences (ACES) have had significant success in developing bioink formulations suitable for use in 3D bioprinting to treat a range of clinical conditions.
Thanks to recent funding from the Australian Government's Medical Research Future Fund, they're now teaming up with world-renowned burns specialist Professor Fiona Wood and researchers from Curtin University to develop the technology to treat skin wounds.
"Here in Wollongong we've been developing bio-printing solutions for a range of clinical challenges - from cartilage regeneration in the knee through to 3D printed ears for children born with microtia," ACES director Professor Gordon Wallace said.
"Thanks to this funding, we're able to team up with fellow researchers - and our industry partner Inventia Life Science - to develop a 3D bioprinting platform prototype for bioprinting skin tissue."
The Wollongong team will be responsible for developing the bioinks for the project - materials that work to regenerate skin, rather than simply repair it.
"We'll be developing an ink which can deliver the appropriate combination of living cells, along with molecules that keep those cells alive," Prof Wallace said.
"We take the living cells from the patient, and these stem cells are then developed into the right type of cells we want for clinical treatment.
"These cells are combined with a support material - a molecule from wood or seaweed or another natural source.
"These materials play a critical role - most importantly they protect the living cells during the printing process to allow them to form into an ideal structure on the wound."
Prof Wallace said the funding would enable the team to accelerate their research, and push ahead with clinical trials. The ultimate aim was to have this technology available in surgical theatres.
"The idea is to apply this directly onto the wound to create a 3D structure which will facilitate wound healing," he said.
"Fiona is very keen to create something which leads to minimal scarring after burns or a wound. We don't just want to close the gap, we want to regenerate skin across the gap."
It would be a safe, effective and affordable alternative to traditional skin grafting methods, he said.
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