There is a large demand for cost-efficient skin graft to cover wounds or severe injuries, e.g. after a severe burn. Scientists all over the world have made approaches to produce artificial skin: From spider silk to nanowire or 3D printed skin. What all these solutions have in common is that their production is rather complex and expensive. That is not surprising, after all artificial skin has a challenging job to do. It has to be able to sense pressure, feel temperature, and detect humidity and motion.

Considering all these requirements it is all the more astonishing that professor Muhammad Mustafa Hussain from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology has developed an artificial skin from commonly available household materials. Did doctors who were in charge of the first skin grafts around the turn of the century ever thought of skin made from paper, aluminum foil, and sponges? Certainly not. Even today this sounds like a DIY project at first. But keeping in mind that skin covers a large surface area, it is perfectly logical that an artificial substitute should be made from affordable material. And that is precisely what the Saudi Arabian electrical engineers have done. A 6.5 centimeter square of their “Paper Skin” costs only $1.67 in materials and performs as well as other artificial skin applications. “This work has the potential to revolutionize the electronics industry and paves the way to commercialize affordable high-performance sensing devices,” stated Hussain.

A smart skin and a real multitasker

To imitate varied functions of skin, “Paper Skin” consists of three layers. On its top paper measures humidity whilst the middle layer made from aluminum foil detects temperature and the pH level. Finally a sponge layer is able to sense multiple pressures. The best thing about it is that all these senses can be tracked simultaneously. Through changes in the electromagnetic field “Paper Skin” can even sense pressure or movement in a radius of 13 cm. It enables real-time medical monitoring, the use in wearable and flexible electronics or touch-free computer interfaces.

That said, “Paper Skin” is not yet marketable. Before it is commercially achievable, its performance under severe conditions has to be tested and the wireless interaction with the paper skin needs to be improved. Hussain and his colleagues are optimistic and expect it to be ready for mass production within the next two years.

What do you think? Is “Paper Skin” a real alternative to established skin grafting methods? Please leave your comment below.