This pen can 3D-print cells onto injured body parts

30 Jul 20151355 Shares

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There’s a group of researchers in Australia working on a 3D-printing pen that will allow surgeons to draw regenerative cells onto injured body parts. It’s called the Biopen.

Based in the University of Wollongong in Melbourne, the team – which includes Irishman Cathal O’Connell, whose voice features in the video below – is currently part of a new funding competition on Thinkable.org.

The site is a new research platform that allows scientists to showcase innovative ideas for fans to vote on and even sponsor.

O’Connell and his colleagues work in a wing of the St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, home to the facility’s bio-fabrication suite, which is as cutting-edge as you can get, by the sounds of it.

“Here, I’m part of a team figuring out ways of creating artificial replicas of human body parts,” he says.

“Once implanted, these spare parts are designed to stimulate the body to regenerate itself, then to degrade naturally, dissolving in the bloodstream and eventually excreted.”

To do this, the Biopen was created to allow the researchers to print with cells. Take a moment to get your head around that.

Crazy calligraphy

When I was younger the four-colour pen with the light blue bottom and white top was as advanced as I ever imagined calligraphy could get, now clever clogs are working out ways to draw new body parts.

This is incredible.

The Biopen comes from a team of surgeons, biologists, biomedical engineers and 3D printing experts, and it will, hopefully, let surgeons fill a bunch of healing stem cells into a wound to help it repair.

By taking some fat cells off of a patient, scientists will be able to replicate these on a large scale, thus loading up the ‘ink’ that can fill the Biopen.

Biopen 3D printing

The Biopen, via University of Wollongong

From there the BioPen works similar to 3D-printing methods, by delivering cell material inside a biopolymer, protected by a second layer of gel material. Combined, this is applied layer after layer onto the wounded area.

These cells will then multiply around the wound and create a “thriving community of cells”, according to the team.

“Our approach is potentially revolutionary as it will allow surgeons to deliver cartilage cells with control over cell density and orientation, as well as over the stiffness of the deposited ‘bioink’,” says O’Connell.

“We are just on the outset of this project, and early funding sources (such as this competition) could make all the difference in helping us turn this idea into a clinical reality.”

This competition finishes tonight, so if you’re going to vote, do so soon

Main image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt is senior communications and context executive at NDRC. He previously worked as a journalist with Silicon Republic.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com