New Handheld 'Pen' 3D Prints Human Stem Cells For Surgery

Scientists have created a new 3D printing pen that actually prints human stem cells.

By Catherine Griffin | Mar 31, 2016 10:23 AM EDT

Human Embryonic Stem Cell Colony

Scientists have created a new 3D printing pen that actually prints human stem cells. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

Imagine a pen that can actually “print” human cells. Scientists have created a proof-of-concept experiment that involves using a handheld 3D printing pen to “draw” human stem cells in freeform patterns.

The device itself is called a BioPen and was designed with the practical constraints of surgery in mind. It was created with the help of 3D printed medical grade plastic and titanium, and it is small, lightweight, and able to be sterilized. The gadget dispenses “ink” and has a light attached to it to solidify said ink.

“The development of this type of technology is only possible with interactions between scientists and clinicians-clinicians to identify the problem and scientists to develop a solution,” said Peter Choong, Director of Orthopaedics at St. Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.

The process of 3D printing is becoming more and more commonplace. It’s not surprising that scientists are now looking at “printing” tissues in order to give a higher degree of control during surgery and other practices. There is already a different sort of pen on the market that allows people to “draw” with ink before it solidifies into a particular shape. In this case, though, the pen “draws” with actual cells.

The device itself is designed to allow surgeons to sculpt customized cartilage implants during surgery. With the help of hydrogel bio-ink, the pen can carry and support living human stem cells. A lower powered light source then solidifies this bio-ink. The cells themselves have a survival rate that’s in excess of 97 percent.

More specifically, the biopen is designed to allow surgeons to treat defects by filling them in with bespoke scaffolds. This, in particular, could be extremely useful when it comes to operating on different tissues during surgery.

“The biopen project highlights both the challenges and exciting opportunities in multidisciplinary research,” said Gordon Wallace, one of the developers of the biopen. “When we get it right we can make extraordinary progress at a rapid rate.”

The findings could be huge when it comes to surgery. With that said, more testing will need to be done before this useful tool is actually used to any extent in surgery.

The study was published in the March 22 issue of the journal Biofabrication.

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