3D Printing Pen, BioPen, Will Enable Surgeons Draw Stem Cells Onto Patients' Bones and Joints Directly

By Staff Writer

Apr 07, 2016 10:16 AM EDT

A new application of the 3D printing technology will enable surgeons create a custom new cartilage inside a patient's joints. The product, called BioPen, will change surgeons' techniques in performing surgeries, as surgeons will be able to design and personalize bone and joints reconstructing in real time.

The developer team, a group of scientists from the Australian Research Council's Center of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), said that they have been working on the BioPen for almost three years. The scientists are conducting detailed experiments with the device and improving it for new capabilities.

The device's new capability is the ability to effectively print viable human stem cells into damaged joints, as reported by Mashable. The stem cells drawn with the BioPen will, in turn, regrow cartilage on the damaged joints. The technology will enable doctors to create specific cartilage reconstructions for different patients.

BioPen, in the form of a handheld 3D printing pen, will allow "in-situ biofabrication," which could not be accomplished with other existing devices. During the technique, the surgeon sculpts the material as he or she draws. Technically, the device "allows for surgical sculpting of the substitute tissue to achieve the desired structure."

The 3D printing pen uses bio ink to incorporate adipose stem cells from human fat cells into a hydrogel substance that the pen emitted to the damaged cartilage, as explained by Tech.Mic. After that, the doctors will use UV light to harden the substance from the pen, called polymer-based hydrogel.

The technology's initiator, Peter Choong, is a director of orthopedics at St. Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne. He first created the pen with ACES director Gordon Wallace. Mr. Choong explained the wide use of the treatment, as quoted by 3DPrint, "This type of treatment may be suitable for repairing acutely damaged bone and cartilage, for example from sporting or motor vehicle injuries."

As for now, the BioPen is still in the research and development stage and not yet for medical use. The researchers are still working to correct some variables, as the flow of hydrogel from the pen can vary depending on the air temperature and the heat of hand holding the pen.

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