The 3Doodler captured the attention of more than just the 3D printing crowd, but as cool as the first 3D printing pen is, it’s still only plastic doodles. The next 3D pen is serious as the BioPen aims to put live cells at the tips of surgeons’ fingers.
The revolutionary pen comes from the University of Wollongong, the headquarters of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES). It’s being sent to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne to be tested and improved in clinical trials, though the prototype itself has been successfully tested. The pen uses cell material that is protected by a gel, and then mixed in the pen head as the extrusion is drawn onto the specified tissue surface. A UV light is attached to the pen and it solidifies the cell-inks for rigidity. Usually stem cells will be loaded so they’ll turn into whatever cells they’re dispensed onto. Professor Peter Choong, Director of Orthopedics at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne and the Sir Hugh Devine, Professor of Surgery at the University of Melbourne said “This type of treatment may be suitable for repairing acutely damaged bone and cartilage, for example from sporting or motor vehicle injuries.”
Essentially, your surgeon will color your boo-boos away, and it’ll be more effective than any complicated cut-and-paste graft. Maybe you tripped onto a spiked branch while hiking and there’s now a hole in your leg; in the future the doc will just fill it in with his BioPen and send you on your way (with some future pain meds of course). Healing times will be much shorter and more complete, in many cases where healing could not have even occurred. This technology will provide solutions to a long list of cartilage-related injuries and diseases that are currently treated only symptomatically — arthritis, deteriorated disc disease, and sports injuries to name a few. The BioPen will also be useful on burns and large cuts as a means to prevent scars. Clinical trials will hopefully go well because this device will change the operating room forever.