The University of Wollongong (UOW) is currently developing a 3D printing BioPen that could allow surgeons to design customized implants on-site. UOW’s pen could be used to repair damaged or diseased bone material.
Researchers from UOW’s Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) have been developing the pen that will give surgeons greater control over where the materials are deposited while also reducing the time the patient is in surgery by delivering live cells and growth factors directly to the site of injury.
Similar in function to other 3D printing methods, the BioPen delivers cell material inside a biopolymer such as alginate, a seaweed extract, protected by a second, outer layer of gel material. As the material/ink is extruded the two layers of gel combine in the pen head and the surgeon fills in the damaged bone section.
To solidify the ink a low power ultra-violet light source is fixed to the pen. This provides protection for the embedded cells while they are built up layer-by-layer to construct a 3D scaffold in the wound site.
Once the cells have been placed onto the operating area by the pen they will multiply, become differentiated into nerve cells, muscle cells or bone cells and will eventually turn from individual cells into a thriving community of cells.
Researchers at UOW used 3D printing equipment in the labs at the University of Wollongong to design and build the pen. This week the BioPen was handed over to clinical partners at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, led by Professor Peter Choong, who will work on optimizing the cell material for use in clinical trials.
Professor Peter Choong, Director of Orthopaedics at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and the Sir Hugh Devine Professor of Surgery, University of Melbourne said:
“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 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 combination of materials science and next-generation fabrication technology is creating opportunities that can only be executed through effective collaborations such as this,” ACES Director Professor Gordon Wallace said. “What’s more, advances in 3D printing are enabling further hardware innovations in a rapid manner.”