Fabricating artificial bones is one of the most interesting byproducts of the 3D-printing revolution. In the latest development, Australian researchers developed a BioPen that deposits regenerative stem cells onto damaged bone and cartilage in a process similar to 3D printing. Scientists at the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales say their bone growth pen combines 3D-printing with stem cell research to regrow missing or diseased bone faster and more accurately.
While it’s not exactly 3D printing, the scientists use the same principal by extruding a cell material in a seaweed extract biopolymer, which is then combined with a second layer of protective gel. The surgeon uses the BioPen to fill in missing areas of bone or cartilage by drawing across the surface. The pen is also equipped with an ultra-violet light source, which cures and solidifies the biological inks. Eventually the protective gel will dissolve as the cells contained within begin to multiply, artificially stimulating bone growth.
A key benefit to applying stem cells directly with the pen is the control it gives doctors. Instead of simply injecting stem cells into the injury site, these customized implants can speed up the healing process by targeting a specific area whilst reducing the amount of time the patient spends in surgery and recovery.
“This type of treatment may be suitable for repairing acutely damaged bone and cartilage, for example from sporting or motor vehicle injuries,“ Professor Peter Choong, Director of Orthopaedics at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, explained in a release.
“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.”
The researchers at ACES have moved the BioPen out of the lab and into Professor Choong’s hands. Choong will head a number of St Vincent clinical projects within the Aikenhead Center for Medical Discovery. The team there is expected to refine the cell material ahead of real world clinical trials.