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Boffins develop human skin printer

Live cell ink-jet-type process

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Scientists at Manchester University have built a printer which can output human skin suitable for grafts, the Manchester News reports.

The device uses human cells suspended in a solution which are printed onto a plastic matrix. It works in the same way as an ink-jet printer and is capable of producing made-to-measure strips of skin ready for grafting. The plastic matrix is designed to dissolve after attachment to the patient.

Although several rival teams are working on similar projects around the globe, lead boffin Professor Brian Derby says his squad is the only one "to work out how to print human cells without destroying them in the process".

The Manchester team is now aiming to produce bone and cartilage in the near future. Derby said: "It's not like printing a sheet of paper. We can print a few millimetres in depth and build it up layer-upon-layer until, in principle, we could produce bone fragments the size of a golf ball."

The fact that the process holds the possibility of custom-made replacement parts is the most promising area of the research. Derby noted: "It is difficult for a surgeon to reconstruct any complex disfiguring of the face using CT scans, but with this technology we are able to build a fragment which will fit exactly. We can place cells in any designed position to grow tissue or bone."

Derby hopes that, with clinical trials, the human skin printer might start to deliver practical results within five years, but admitted that his team is "still working out how to print cells on to the 3D plastic scaffolds to produce bone or cartilage". ®

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