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Inkjet printers are extremely common. Odds are there’s one at your elbow while reading this. It’s a time tried, and effective method of putting words on a page. Now the same mechanism is being used to print skin—not on skin—to print actual skin.

Such a printer works by drawing in a sheet of paper, positions it under the print heads. The print heads draw in ink from a reservoir, and spray the ink onto the page as they pass over it horizontally. Once a pass is complete the paper is pulled up to a new row, and the print heads pass over again and deliver their ink.

The skin printer uses much of the same technique.

When a person requires a graft or transplant, some of his cells are harvested, and multiplied, then plopped into a nutrient-rich liquid that would become the printer’s ink. The paper would be replaced with a plastic tissue scaffold sized to fit the patient’s need, and then the printer would squirt the cells onto the scaffold. Several layers would be needed, but it (relatively) quickly forms a skin. The entire scaffold is grafted to the patient with the expectation that the plastic would dissolve over time.

Since the skin cells are from the patient’s own body, it would be easier to reincorporate them into the body.

And this it just the first part of the plan. They’re hoping to have a working skin printer by 2010, but there are thoughts that the same technology could be used to build bones or other organs.

Such plans are merely preliminary, but there are high hopes that this technology will work out to help in speeding along the recoveries of people we know … what a wonderfully modern world we live in.

Live Science Article