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Professor helps develop skin cells

Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05

Skin cells

Special to The Prospector

Thomas Boland, professor of metallurgical and materials engineering, worked with several Texas health institutions to help develop new ways to grow skin cells.

For the last 10 years, Thomas Boland, professor of metallurgical and materials engineering,  has been collaborating with several  Texas health institutions to help develop new ways to grow skin cells for burn victims and those with foot ulcers due to diabetes.

The project's goal, Boland said, is to re-grow tissues outside of the body for implantation, which means donors or skin graphing is not required for this new treatment.

"What we do is we make the scaffold at the same time as we add the cells so we have cells embedded very deep inside this matrix just like it would be on your regular skin, and we add channels in there, which later develop into a vascular channel," Boland said.

The scaffold is what the new cells attach themselves to, allowing the cells to develop in the vascular channel, which are the blood vessels. This way the new skin cell will attach itself to the existing skin.

Boland's partners in the project are Providence Hospital, Texas Tech University and health professionals out of Austin, Texas are some of the.

Boland predicts diabetes patients with foot ulcers are likely going to be the largest market for this therapy, but he also states that it will also prevent patients from having to receive so many treatments because the previous implanted skin cells die, as occurs in other treatments such as skin graphing.

"We try to the use the patient's own cells, that way they won't be rejected and they won't need as many treatments," Boland said.

Another part of this treatment is the use of a HP inkjet printer to precisely position plates to distribute the substances needed for nurturing the cells, then position those plates and then add cells to the mix.

Laura Bosworth, co-founder and CEO of Tevido Biodevices, which is an early-stage start-up business that does technology research for medical device products, has also been collaborating with Boland on the project. She said that the printer is the same one a student would print school papers with, but the printer has been modified somewhat to use proteins, gels and cells for wound healing.

"Once we get to a place where we can get funding because it's a medical device, it's extremely expensive to bring it to market, you know multiple millions of dollars, and we have to go through full federal regulatory such as FDA," Bosworth said.

The complete process of evolving this therapy into something the FDA will approve of could take five to eight years, Bosworth said.

"Right now, we're planning on testing on mice," Boland said. "After mice, let's say this shows an improvement over existing technology, we'll probably go into pigs."

Because a pig's skin is very similar to human skin, in terms of the biology, Boland said that if pig testing looks good they might eventually go into human trials.

Herman Castro, a sophomore civil engineering student, said that the treatment is great because there are no transplants or pulling from other sources.

"This would be very beneficial for everybody because it would help a lot of people," Castro said. "There's just a lot of fires and just a lot of incidents where people die because they don't have the chance and then this kind of research saves lives."

Castro said that the skin cell treatment by Boland is "beneficial" because instead of killing animals for graphs or taking donors from anybody else, the technology and the individual needing the skin provides everything.

Boland's skin-growth printing treatment bridges current technologies to the future of technology in health treatments, as a new and possibly better choice for patients.

"In our case, our skin growth would have a better option than what's currently available," Boland said.

Amber Watts may be reached at prospector@utep.edu.

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