By manufacturing human skin cells using a printer similar to an inkjet, scientists have taken a significant first step toward generating new skin.

The process, which could revolutionize the treatment of major skin wounds, could be ready for clinical trials in five years.

While much research needs to be done, the technique is promising, according to an expert not involved in the breakthrough.

Scientists expect to eventually build commercial skin printers for hospital use. Doctors would take cells from a patient’s body, multiply them and suspend them in a nutrient-rich liquid similar to ink. A technician would enter measurements of a patient’s wound into a computer and feed the suspended cells into the printer.

The cells would then be seeded on a plastic tissue scaffold, which provides shape and stability to the new piece of skin as it develops. The scaffold would also anchor the perfectly shaped piece of skin when it’s applied on the wound, keeping the graft in place until it takes hold.

The scaffold would dissolve naturally over time, just as some stitches do.

“The cells are the patient’s own cells, and the object is to reincorporate them into the body,” project leader Brian Derby told LiveScience.

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