The Art of Stem Cells: Drawing Cartilage with 3D Printing Pens

The Art of Stem Cells: Drawing Cartilage with 3D Printing Pens

If you’re suffering from a particularly crippling case of arthritis, current remedies at your disposal include various forms of therapy, injection therapy or complete joint replacement surgery. Injection therapy is a form of regenerative medicine, one that is offered at our RegenerVate clinics and can successfully delay joint replacement surgeries. A new stem cell research and technology breakthrough has hinted that it may soon be possible to skip surgeries like this altogether.

What is the BioPen and How is it Used?

A prototype for a new 3D printing pen has been conceptualized, allowing doctors to draw human stem cells into any injury site, accelerating bone or cartilage regeneration. If the pen becomes a commonly used tool in operating rooms, it could eliminate the need for painful, expensive joint replacements.

The ‘BioPen’ was created by a team from St. Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, and works by delivering a mixture of hydrogel and stem cells to the targeted injured area, encouraging the body to heal itself. The stem cells have ‘extremely high survival rates’ around 97 percent and multiply and differentiate into the muscle, bone, or joint cells needed, that eventually become functioning tissues.

How the BioPen Treatment is Revolutionary

‘Printing’ stem cells isn’t a new innovation, but this is the first time surgeons, with joint replacements and cartilage repair in particular, have the power to customize the implant precisely for the patient. Thanks to the hydrogel­stem cell compound, the natural properties of stem cells differentiating allows for the perfect joint or bone fit for any patient. Doctors can apply, or ‘draw’, the material with surgical scaffolds, layer­by­layer, easily filling in sections of a damaged bone or cartilage. The biogel is then permanently hardened with an ultraviolet light, embedded right into the pen, after the stem cell art session.

How Could BioPen Be Used in the Future?

The implications for the BioPen’s impact on medicine are impressive. Again, the most game-­changing advancement this stem cell technology offers is in joint replacements and cartilage repair. The shape of an area requiring an implant, like a knee replacement, is almost impossible for surgeons to discern from the difficulty to design artificial implants before surgery is extremely high. The 3D stem cell printing technology bypasses the tedious process of creating implants, allowing doctors to proceed directly into filling in any damaged areas with the hydrogel solution.

Arthritis is a surprisingly common condition, characterized by the break down and deterioration of cartilage. This can lead to extreme pain, and is tough to remedy, as cartilage cannot regrow or repair itself like other body parts. The only solution until now was surgery that involves drilling into the patient’s bone for pre­fabricated implants.

This mobile form of 3D printing has the capacity to be used in alternative surgeries, where custom tissue regeneration would be needed, though the original BioPen hasn’t yet been tested in clinical trials. A second prototype was recently built, and is undergoing testing at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

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