It might look like a cross between a prison tattoo gun and an IV but researchers at the University of Wollongong in Australia, led by Professor Gordon Wallace, have come up with a device that will allow doctors and surgeons to 3D-print bone directly onto patients. The device, called the BioPen, is different from other methods of 3D bone printing in that it is able to add sections of material that will eventually become bone straight onto a damaged section of skeletal mass.
The University of Wollongong explains that the BioPen works by combining a cell material – whether this is a stem cell mixture isn’t specified – with a biopolymer such as alginate, which is derived from seaweed, and applying that mixture right onto a section of missing bone. The mixture is also covered with a layer of gel that protects it while it gets to work growing into the bits and pieces that it needs to be, speeding up the healing process in the er… process. The whole lot is hardened by a low-power ultraviolet light that is attached to the BioPen, as the mixture is applied.
Additional drugs could also be added to the BioPen’s ‘ink’ that will further facilitate healing.
Professor Peter Choong, Director of Orthopaedics at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne and the Sir Hugh Devine Professor of Surgery at the 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 personalise solutions for reconstructing bone and joint defects in real time.”
The BioPen is still a way off however, it still has to undergo clinical testing after the mixture that will be used is evaluated and modified by partners at Melbourne’s St. Vincent Hospital. After that it may be showing up at an X-Games event (or something similar) near you, where it should see a lot of use.