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3D pen successfully prints stem cells

By Tim Sandle     Apr 14, 2016 in Science
A further advancement with three-dimensional printing has been made in the biology field. This is with a pen-like device that could be used to make cartilage implants during live operations.
The special device has been named a “Biopen” and it has been developed by technologists working at St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia. What is remarkable about the pen is that it uses a proprietary bio-ink containing live human stem cells. This ink replaces the type of polymers that would be used with standard 3D printing.
The bio-ink contains live human stem cells suspended in a gelatin-based hydrogel solution. A hydrogel is an example of a smart material. It can change its structure in response to salt concentration, pH and temperature.
The pen works to create a three-dimensional bio-structure. As the bio-ink leaves the pen, an ultraviolet light directed into the ink acts to cross-links the material. This hardens the biological material and allows it to be modeled into various three-dimensional structures.
By using fat stem cells, the researchers reported that 97 percent of the cells remained viable after one week. The researchers state in a scientific note: “The ability to directly control the deposition of regenerative scaffolds with or without the presence of live cells during the surgical process presents an exciting advance not only in the fields of cartilage and bone regeneration but also in other fields where tissue regeneration and replacement are critical.”
The pen is constructed from materials that enable it to be cleaned and decontaminated. The pen is conducted from plastic and titanium. The bio-pen remains at the developmental stage and it has not gone forward for human clinical trials. Given the successes to date, such trials are likely. The primary use will be in surgery, to help repair cartilage.
The idea is also be pre-program the pen so it can produce a range of standardized structures. A more sophisticated application will be with producing structures designed to fit different patients, focusing on the various shapes within the patient’s body. This could, if demonstrated in trials, revolutionize surgery.
The findings are published in the journal Biofabrication. The research is called “Development of the Biopen: a handheld device for surgical printing of adipose stem cells at a chondral wound site.”
More about bioprinting, 3D printing, additive printing, Stem cells
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