Bioprinting is a big part of medical 3D printing. It’s moved from the realm of pure science fiction to a real possibility within a very short time.
However, despite a significant amount of research, it’s still a cumbersome, lengthy, difficult process. There’s something heading to the market that might change that somewhat – a new 3D printing pen, called the BioPen.
What does it offer? What can it do? Let’s take a closer look.
The 3D BioPen
The BioPen is the brainchild of an Australian team of researchers and surgeons. It’s supposed to allow a surgeon to literally draw human cartilage cells.
It creates cartilage implants from actual human stem cells, allowing the utmost in terms customization and helping to combat the potential for rejection in the patient, or other complications.
Researchers designed the BioPen to be super lightweight and able to be used with just one hand. It uses a mixture of bioink and stem cells, and prints directly into the body.
Surgeons can fill in damaged cartilage quickly and easily, and the printed cells actually have a 97% survival rate, which is a significant improvement over older types of bioprinting.
One area where the BioPen is supposed to make a significant impact is in treating certain arthritis sufferers. Many patients develop arthritis as cartilage begins to wear and break down, without being renewed.
With this new printer, surgeons could rebuild that material quickly, using the patient’s own stem cells, thereby alleviating their pain and inflammation.
“The development of this type of technology is only possible with interactions between scientists and clinicians – clinicians to identify the problem and scientists to develop a solution,” explained one of the team’s lead developers, Professor Peter Choong. “The BioPen project highlights both the challenges and exciting opportunities in multidisciplinary research.
When we get it right, we can make extraordinary progress at a rapid rate.”
And make no mistake, the BioPen is very much a large step forward. It does help that cartilage does not require any blood supply, and contains no nerves.
Both of these have been stumbling blocks when it comes to printing other types of human tissue. However, the major step forward here is the amount of control given to the surgeon.
The BioPen allows a surgeon complete freedom and control over the printed cells, which means that each patient receives a completely customized solution to their situation. This is something that is not possible with other treatment options on the market, such as Teflon coated implants for joints.
While the BioPen is slowly making its way toward the open market, it’s still technically a prototype. A second, slightly more advanced prototype is currently being designed, and it’s hoped that this will become the final market-ready version sometime in 2016.