Some people are natural born artists. They can take the simplest of pencils and whip up a beautiful sketch in a matter of seconds. Others are natural born caretakers – surgeons endowed with sharp minds, prying eyes and steady hands. Now combine these two and you’ve got yourself an unbeatable weapon, the BioPen, effectively fighting against cancers, osteoarthritis and traumatic injuries.

The BioPen prototype was developed in the laboratories at the University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia and has now been given to its clinical partners at St. Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, led by Professor Peter Choong, the Head of the Department of Surgery and Director of Orthopaedics, and also the Chair of the Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcoma Service of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Center, Melbourne. The professor will conduct further studies in order to make the prototypal device available for use in clinical trials. Concurrently, researchers at ACES (ARC Center of Excellence for Electromaterials Science), led by the same Professor Choong, incorporates six Australian collaborators and five international partner organizations that provide their expertise in the fields of materials and device fabrication.

 

“Nowadays, not only can this technology be used for designing live body parts and organs, but it can also be used for making-up the dainty and fragile structures of blood vessels, embryonic stem cells, and cartilage. And this is where the BioPen comes into play. It was specifically designed for creating custom cartilage during surgery, making it thus the perfect addition to any surgeon’s operating room toolkit.”

 

These researchers have recently developed successful methods for growing knee cartilage from stem cells onto support offered by 3D printed scaffolds used “This type of treatment may be suitable for repairing acutely damaged bone and cartilage, for example from sporting or motor vehicle injuries. Professor Wallace’s [ACES director] 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”.

In any case, the BioPen is just the latest innovation in the world of 3D bioprinting aka the unbelievably high-tech realm of creating functional cell patterns for tissues and organs by means of a 3D printer. Nowadays, not only can this technology be used for designing live body parts and organs, but it can also be used for making-up the dainty and fragile structures of blood vessels, embryonic stem cells, and cartilage. And this is where the BioPen comes into play. It was specifically designed for creating custom cartilage during surgery, making it thus the perfect addition to any surgeon’s operating room toolkit.

 

“The BioPen is made from medical-grade plastic and titanium, while its dispensing ‘ink’ or biogel being made out of hydrogel (polymeric material) and stem cells that have a 97 per cent survival rate.”

 

The BioPen is made from medical-grade plastic and titanium, while its dispensing ‘ink’ or biogel being made out of hydrogel (polymeric material) and stem cells that have a 97 per cent survival rate. The device places the stem cells within an organic polymer, a macromolecule compound consisting of chains of smaller and simpler units called molecules. In this case, the polymer used by the researchers is alginate, a substance which is extracted out of seaweed, while the outer layer of the gel works as a protective shield for the living material. The two layers are designed to combine on the site of the damaged bone section, as the surgeon literally ‘draws’ the gel to fill in the tissue in need of repair.

Then, the low-powered ultraviolet light on top of the device performs its designated role, by making sure the gel becomes solid during dispensing, to increase cell protection while layers of the material are placed to form a 3D scaffold onto the damaged site. The cells will eventually turn into functioning tissue for nerves or muscles. Furthermore, the BioPen can also be made to dispense growth factors (any group of proteins capable of stimulating cell development) or various drugs to help speed up the recovery process. Thus, the device’s design makes it efficient in repairing damaged tissue with precision during surgery, while its overall construction makes it easy for transportation in the operating room.

In light of its numerous advantages, researchers have high hopes for having constructed a revolutionary tool for tissue engineering. But to have reached this stepping stone in the world of 3D bioprinting, the efforts of both scientists and clinicians were necessary to come together.

“The biopen project highlights both the challenges and exciting opportunities in multidisciplinary research” says Professor Gordon Wallace, while adding that “the combination of materials science and next-generation fabrication technology is creating opportunities that can only be executed through effective collaborations such as this”.

“When we get it right we can make extraordinary progress at a rapid rate.”

 

O.P.

May 9, 2016

Sources: http://www.medicaldaily.com/biopen-3d-printed-stem-cells-knee-replacement-383898, http://media.uow.edu.au/news/UOW162803.html, http://www.electromaterials.edu.au/about/, http://www.electromaterials.edu.au/case-studies/case-studies/case-study-1/