Injuries and wounds to the skin often take 4 to 6 weeks to heal, depending on the severity and size of the wound. If a wound does not heal within this timeframe, doctors refer to it is a chronic wound. There are a variety of factors that can cause an individual to suffer from chronic wounds, the most common being a weakened immune system, diabetes, and old age.
At the present time, serious wounds are usually treated using skin grafts. This procedure involves taking tissue from a healthy area of the individual’s body, or using skin from a donor. But this approach involves further surgery to help the already wounded tissue, and involves several risks.
Recently, researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina developed a “bioprinter” that is able to use an individual’s own skin cells to create new layers of skin. This skin can then be applied directly to the wound.
The new procedure, recently described in the journal Scientific Reports, involves collecting major skin cells, known as thermal fibroblasts, along with epidermal keratinocytes, by biopsying the individual’s healthy skin tissue. The scientists then expand the cells, mixing them into a hydrogel. The hydrogel is then placed into their new bioprinter machine, which can scan the individual’s wound to create an exact match — corresponding to the exact size and shape of the wound — and tell the device where to place the printed layers of skin.
Not only does this technique not require a skin graft, it actually replicates how skin naturally forms. This allows for faster healing and fewer risks. In the words of lead author Dr. Sean Murphy:
“The unique aspect of this technology is the mobility of the system and the ability to provide on-site management of extensive wounds by scanning and measuring them in order to deposit the cells directly where they are needed to create skin.”
Further, the lead researcher of this technique, Dr. James Yoo, pointed out that although skin grafts are quite common, they have many disadvantages. In many cases, especially among the elderly, there may be a shortage of healthy skin tissue of sufficient size for a proper skin graft. Moreover, when donor skin grafts are used, they come with the risk of rejection. The new method of using a bioprinter to create skin avoids these risks.
This new method might also be useful for people who have been forced to live with unsightly scars, whether from poorly healed wounds or burns. In fact, this process might be the beginning of a revolution in the way we treat wounds and scars. It even has the potential to be used for the management of our skin as we age.
At Atlantic Coast Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, in Lakewood, NJ, we take a restorative approach to senior health, maximizing function and mobility in a positive and upbeat atmosphere. We pay close attention to the needs of our residents, and specialize in treating chronic wounds.
Or better yet, come see for yourself: Contact us to schedule a tour by calling 732-364-7100, or by clicking here.