bandaged hand
Dr. Gerstenhaber peels back the soy bandage.
Colleen Stepanian

Getting its start with the Department of Bioengineering in 2013, the Integrated Cellular Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Laboratory (i-CTERM) at Temple College of Engineering takes personal healing in the most literal sense. Department Chair Dr. Peter Lelkes and the lab's team pursue a variety of projects primarily focused on cellular tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

And now, for the first time, one of those projects is patentable.

Assistant Professor of Instruction Dr. Jon Gerstenhaber has developed 3-D printing technology that uses electrospinning to create bandages that can be printed for a patient's own skin. Or, Dr. Gerstenhaber noted, something that fits you individually.

"The main technique is making a fabric, sort of like a felt. Individual fibers are hundreds of nanometers wide—much thinner than a hair," Dr. Gerstenhaber described. "We take soy proteins and turn them into very thin fibers. At an image level, it this looks a lot like the natural matrix of how our cells live."

The method employed to create the fibers is akin to creating thread from wool. Each fiber is pulled through a needle while spinning—just at a hundred times smaller and pulled through an electric field to generate a soy solution that aids in wound healing and tissue regeneration.

The technology consists of two separate components: a larger robotic piece—itself made with 3-D printed parts—along with a smaller, hand-held version.

Dr. Gerstenhaber demonstrated the mechanics behind the hand-held version, noting that the layers of bandage can take a few minutes to show, depending on the size of the wound surface area. As he spoke, the faint white bandage slowly came into focus covering the back of his hand. After the bandage was complete, the thinner-than-gossamer fibers peeled clean away from his skin.

According to Dr. Gerstenhaber, i-CTERM is among the first groups using the soy protein solution in electrospinning instead of hazardous solvents. "Water-based solvents and the air flow, there aren't a lot of labs doing that yet," he said.

Dr. Gerstenhaber showcased the device at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, in a 3-D printing exhibit demonstrating what the technology makes possible, earlier this year. The technology has since been licensed by NuEsse, a company now developing it as OmegaSkin, "the first water soluble plant-protein based skin substitute."