Hang onto your hats for this one, because clinicians and scientists in Australia have come up with a way to “print” in 3D with a pen-like device that uses stem cells in a hydrogel formula. This device was developed jointly by researchers with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) and orthopedic surgeons at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne. With the biopen, surgeons can sculpt customized cartilage implants in real time during surgery.
The polymer hydrogel both transports and supports the stem cells while the surgeon custom-forms a cartilage “cradle.” Low level light is used to cure and solidify the gel. In tests so far, the team has had 97% cell survival. The BioPen itself is made of 3D printed medical grade plastic and titanium, with a low-powered light source attached. The pen is small, lightweight, ergonomic and can be sterilized. The potential in orthopedic surgery is tremendous; I wish my surgeon had this Health Tech when he performed my rotator cuff surgeries.
The ability to create 3D body parts by itself still seems a miracle. Technology that allows surgeons to create needed parts and support components on the fly — custom-sized and shaped to the patient because they are made on and in the patient — is amazing. I’m not going to make any Terminator jokes here, because this is serious business, but it’s almost like science fiction coming to life.