We had previously worked on blogs showcasing the 3D Doodler, which was a pen that could print and solidify 3D printed material, effectively allowing you to draw in 3D. Today, a similar concept is being used in the medical field. The BioPen was created as a collaboration between the UoW-based Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) and orthopedic surgeons at St. Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne. The BioPen works similarly to the 3D Doodler, but instead of plastic, it prints out a “bio-ink” that can bond with other living tissue. The technique is helping surgeons repair cartilage in particular, where it can be difficult or impossible to discern the shape of the implant needed before surgery.
The pen is loaded with a bio-ink comprised of stem cells inside a biopolymer such as alginate, a seaweed extract, which is in turn protected by a second layer of hydrogel. The ink is then extruded onto the bone surface and solidified by a UV light embedded in the pen. Once they are drawn onto the bone, they will multiply inside the patient’s body, differentiating themselves into nerve, muscle and bone cells and eventually growing into tissue. Professor Peter Chooing, the Director of Orthopaedics at St. Vincent’s stated that “This type of treatment may be suitable for repairing acutely damaged bone and cartilage, for example from sporting or motor vehicle injuries,” said Professor Peter Choong, Director of Orthopaedics at St. Vincent’s. “Professor Wallace’s research team brings together the science of stem cells and polymer chemistry to help surgeons design and personalize solutions for reconstructing bone and joint defects in real time.” Cells that were created using the BioPen have a survival rate of nearly 100%. You can find the full study published in the journal of Biofabrication.