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Robotic skin printing – innovation at Concord Burns Unit

Clinical inventions on display on Day 1 of the Sydney Innovation and Research Symposium.

Man and woman sitting at a robotic machine
SydneyConnect Image: Dr Joanneke Maitz showing a Symposium attendee the 3D printing process

At the Concord Burns Unit Skin Lab, Dr Joanneke Maitz saw a problem in the way soft tissue reconstruction and wounds were being treated. 

“We cannot take skin from someone else and put it onto a wound because after three weeks it would be rejected, it’s not a permanent solution,” she said.

“We needed something that we could just get off the shelf.” 

As the Group Lead of the Burns and Reconstructive Surgery Research Group, she drove a new method of skin tissue engineering in the hospital – a process using robotics where skin could be printed directly onto a patient’s wound. 

Her presentation was a highlight of the first day of the Sydney Innovation and Research Symposium, as part of Sydney Innovation Week. 

The novel process is based on the already available Rastrum technology, which bio-prints cells into a three-dimensional structure and recreates tissue. 

“We have a fully equipped laboratory attached to our operating theatre that allows us to grow skin,” said Joanneke.

“We take a biopsy from a patient and isolate the cells from the skin in that lab, and we can grow those cells into shapes.”

After rigorous testing and research, in collaboration with colleagues from the Charles Perkins Centre, the new method involves using the Inventia Life Science LIGO platform, a printhead mounted on a robotic arm.

A burns patient is now able to have skin 3D printed from their own cells with the process encouraging faster healing and less scarring.

“This is the future. It is a world first, at Concord Hospital, to 3D print at the bedside,” she said. 

Opening in 2001, the Skin Laboratory at the Concord Burns Unit is a highly specialised centre for cutting-edge technologies in skin tissue cultivation and skin grafts for severe burn management. 

Dr Stewart Condon, Director Medical Services, Concord Hospital, opened the Symposium by emphasising that radical innovations, such as 3D skin printing, are not the only type of innovations in the District.

“We’ve got incredible colleagues from respiratory medicine and the burns unit, but also incremental innovation – it might seem like it's just a reminder, to use interpreters or translators or being culturally sensitive when you see a patient or treating populations,” he said.

“Innovation can and should and will make a difference today and into the future.”

“The care that we offer helps today, the research and innovation that we will chase will change the problems of tomorrow,” said Graeme Loy PSM, District Chief Executive, in his opening address.

“The week like this is fantastic because it creates a platform, the ability to talk about it, and opportunity to recognise and celebrate achievements and successes and what might come next. That’s how you build culture, and a strong culture is how you build a strong innovation and research ecosystem.”

The flagship event at Sydney Innovation Week, the Sydney Innovation and Research Symposium is a two-day event held to spark new ideas, foster collaboration, and inspire delegates.