A 3D printer that may one day generate new skin for burn victims has won a $3,500 prize and a chance to compete internationally for $50,000 more.
The PrintAlive Bioprinter developed by University of Toronto engineering students Arianna McAllister and Lian Leng has won the top Canadian prize in the 2014 James Dyson Awards program.
Prizes in 18 countries have been given out by the James Dyson Foundation for student projects featuring the industrial or product designs that solve a problem.
In this case, the problem is severe burns that damage both the outer layer of skin, the epidermis, and the inner layer, the dermis, which are made of different cells in different structures, said Leng, a PhD student in mechanical and industrial engineering.
When that type of burn happens, “it’s very difficult for the body to regenerate itself,” she added in an interview with CBC News. In some cases, burn victims can die if their wounds aren’t closed quickly.
Ideally, the patients’ own cells should be used to close the wound to reduce complications and scarring, but that approach may be too slow, McAllister said. It typically takes at least 14 days for cultured skin cells to grow enough to be ready for grafting.
The 3D printer can rapidly create grafts using the patient’s own cells by printing them out in patterns such as spots and stripes instead of as a continuous sheet that would require far more cells, said McAllister, who completed her master’s degree at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomaterial and Biomedical Engineering in January.