Everyone from McDonald’s to Apple is jumping on the 3-D printing bandwagon. But it’s only when you see live cells being printed right onto a damaged bone that you finally start to grasp what this technology is capable of.
A new “bio pen” will allow surgeons to “draw” layers of cells on damaged bones and cartilage during surgery. This will help cells multiply and heal the injured spot by growing into nerves, muscle, and bone.
The pen, which was built using 3-D printing equipment in the labs of the University of Wollongong in Australia and handed over this week to the university’s clinical partners at the St. Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, allows surgeons to be highly precise in placing the cells at the spot of the injury. According to the university, the pen can also be seeded with growth and healing factors to enhance recovery.
The cells are mixed in a biologically friendly material like seaweed extracts, and the entire mixture is further encased in a layer of gel-like material. Both these mixtures are combined in the pen head and extruded out on the surface of the bone as the surgeon “draws” with the ink and fills out the injured section layer by layer, just like a 3-D printer prints an object. Each layer of cells is solidified by a low-power ultraviolet light source fixed directly to the pen.