A team from the Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia has successfully tested its innovative “Biopen.” The 3D bioprinting pen, which can be filled with stem cell hydrogel ink cartridges, was used to repair a sheep’s knee.
The Biopen, which has been in development for some time, could be a significant game-changer for osteoarthritis treatments and prevention, as it could allow doctors to easily print living cells onto injured muscles, bones, tendons, and more.
The device’s body, which features a lightweight and ergonomic structure, is reportedly made from medical grade plastic and titanium. Its titanium nozzle is capable of extruding the bioink, which consists of stem cells and a hydrogel made from gelatin and hyaluronic acid. Once the mixture is extruded, it is cured by a low-powered UV light.
In the recent tests involving a sheep, the Biopen was loaded up with printable ink cartridges filled with the patient’s stem cells and a biocompatible hydrogel material. The hydrogel, said orthopaedic surgeon Claudia Di Bella, not only allows for the cells to be printed, but also enables them to survive and replicate.
Stem cells, which can be adapted to become a range of different cell types, were used to make cartilage cells in this case. "The type of cartilage we were able to create was much superior compared to the other standard techniques we tried in the same sheep, which are the ones used normally in humans," said Di Bella.
The successful tests with the sheep are a positive sign for the technology’s future, as the team behind the Biopen are hopeful that their device will soon be used to repair currently hard-to-treat cartilage injuries. The Biopen could be especially beneficial for young people and athletes, whose injuries could be treated in order to prevent or at least delay the risk of osteoarthritis, the most common chronic joint condition.
Osteoarthritis treatments also apparently cost the medical system a huge amount, so having a preventative tool could free up healthcare expenditures significantly. "In the big scheme of things, if we decrease the number of patients that have osteoarthritis later in life, that would incredibly affect the health expenditure of society,” Di Bella explained.
Notably, the 3D printing Biopen was apparently easy to use on the sheep, meaning it should be a relatively straightforward tool for surgeons to adjust to using. Di Bella said: "It would be a fairly [easy], almost stock-standard surgical operation that we do already with a new instrument that is fairly easy to use."
Developed jointly by teams from St Vincent’s, the University of Melbourne, and the University of Wollongong, the Biopen device is currently in the process of being commercialized. We could even see human trials for the 3D bioprinting pen happen within the next year.