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Inkcredible healing: Cutting-edge 3D printing pen has the power to treat wounds

05 June 2023

Cutting-edge research unleashes the power of a portable bioactive ink for tissue healing, accelerating the healing process significantly and transforming the way wounds are treated.

Image: Adapted from ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces
Image: Adapted from ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces

Scientists have unveiled a new technique that utilises a 3D printing pen to apply a specially formulated wound-healing ink. 

The human body is pretty good at healing itself, though more severe wounds can require bandages or stitches. However, researchers have now harnessed the potential of a wound-healing ink that actively stimulates the body's healing response by introducing immune-system vesicles into the wound site.

Using a 3D printing pen, this remarkable ink can be precisely applied to wounds of any shape. After testing on mice, it nearly achieved complete wound repair within just 12 days.

When the skin is cut or torn, the body's natural “construction crew” kicks in, to restore damaged tissue, eliminate bacterial intruders, and eventually form a scar. Many techniques used to heal wounds can’t do much beyond helping the body do its job better. Bandages or stitches are used to prevent further bleeding, while antibiotics work to prevent complications from infections.

But by adding members of the construction crew to a wound-healing treatment or bandage, it could actually accelerate the natural healing process. Specifically, white blood cells or the extracellular vesicles (EVs) secreted from them play important roles in promoting blood vessel formation and reducing inflammation during healing. 

So, Dan Li, Xianguang Ding and Lianhui Wang wanted to incorporate these EVs into a hydrogel-based wound healing ink that could be painted into cuts of any shape.

The team developed a system called PAINT, or “portable bioactive ink for tissue healing”, using EVs secreted from macrophages combined with sodium alginate. These components were combined in a 3D printing pen, where they mixed at the pen’s tip and formed a sturdy gel at the site of injury within three minutes. 

The EVs promoted blood vessel formation and reduced inflammatory markers in human epithelial cells, shifting them into the “proliferative,” or growth, phase of healing. PAINT was also tested on injured mice, where it promoted collagen fibre.

Mice treated with PAINT had almost healed completely from a large wound after 12 days, compared to mice that didn’t receive the treatment, who were not nearly as far along in the healing process at this time point. 

The researchers say that this work could help heal a wide variety of cuts quickly and easily, without the need for complex procedures.

As researchers continue to refine this innovative approach, the PAINT system has the potential to revolutionise wound care and bring healing to new heights.

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