By Janey Davis | Inside 3DP
With 3D printing already being utilized by the U.S Army to supply spare parts at source, and possibly provide nutritional snacks for deployed soldiers, the attention has now turned to 3D bio printing, and treating injured soldiers.
Dr. Michael Romanko provides science and technology management support for the Tissue Injury and Regenerative Medicine Project Management Office, or TIRM PMO, with the U.S. Army Medical Material Development Activity, and said that the number of soldiers now surviving blasts had increased, but unfortunately, so too had their injuries.
This is thanks to the improvements in body armour, tank design and the innovations made in medical treatments. Now, soldiers that would have previously been fatally injured are surviving, however, their injuries can be catastrophic, with many suffering loss of limbs and severe burns:
“There was an increasing need to deliver therapies for wounded warriors. We saw a spike in the severity of the trauma that these soldiers were receiving. As we increased the quality of battle armor, the injuries they were surviving were that much more debilitating,” said Romanko.
The medical team are concentrating their efforts on skin repair, as this lends itself perfectly to 3D bio printers and is an area of high concern, as deep tissue scar damage can be particularly restricting to injured soldiers:
“The scars that soldiers develop as a result of burns constrict movement and disfigure them permanently. The initiative to restore high-quality skin that is elastic and complete with sweat glands, appropriate pigmentation and hair follicles is incredibly important,” said Romanko.
The treatment begins with a scan of the injured area to create a 3D map, which is then loaded onto the 3D printer. The printer has cartridges filled with two types of skin cells, keratinocytes and fibroblasts. The printer then begins to print exactly where the cells are needed, with the fibroblasts making up the deep layer of skin, and keratinocytes finishing the top layer. The cells then start growing new layers of skin once the cells have been deposited.
Romanko says that skin repair is an important aspect of medical care in the field as it accounts for around 10 to 30% of all battlefield injuries. He believes that bio printing is the ideal solution as it is tailor-made to each individual:
“Everyone has a different type of injury, and not everyone’s skin injury looks the same. Skin bio printing would provide a scalable form of personalized medicine,” Romanko said.
Romanko and his team admit that not only is bio printing is still in its early stages and further research is necessary, but there will be several federal regulatory stages that have to be passed, before trials on patients can commence.
However, the team are hopeful that by exploring this relatively new technology within the small sphere of the military, the wider implications of treating the general public could ensure the long-term viability of this treatment for the future:
“This has very widespread use, not only to the military audience, but also to the civilian population. We need a larger commercialization audience in order to be a self-sustaining technology,” Romanko said.
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