Imagine a future where inexpensive 3D tissue printers are used to save lives, revolutionizing burn care around the world.

Mechanical engineering PhD student Lian Leng is trying to make that happen. Under the supervision of Professor Axel Guenther (MIE, IBBME), she is developing a printing device that forms sheets of soft tissue.

The printer, which is still in prototype stage, can also build up the material – made mostly from living cells – to varying thicknesses, textures and densities.

If successful, Leng’s tissue printer could mark a huge advance in quality of life and survivability for severely burned patients, and dramatically reduce treatment costs. What’s more, it could morph into a machine for fabricating internal organs.

The prototype, which only costs a few hundred dollars to make, looks like a small open box of clear hard rubber, the layered floor of which contains a delta of microfabricated pathways. These lead from seven reservoir stations to a single output stream. Just like the colour cartridges in a printer, Leng’s reservoirs of live cells are computer controlled to dispense precise amounts, exactly where needed.

Leng and Guenther hope to have a trial of five to 10 human patients within two to three years. They’ve already taken steps toward commercialization by having the device patented through U of T’s Innovations and Partnerships Office and MaRS Innovations.

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