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Australian Surgeons Successfully Use 3D Stem Cell BioPen to Draw Knee Cartilage into Sheep, Ready for Commercialization, Human Trials

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When it comes to 3D printing in the medical field, it seems like Australia is the place to watch these days. In just a few of many examples, the country is home to what’s touted as the hospital of the future, an Australian woman recently received a 3D printed titanium jaw implant, a team of Australian researchers is working to crowdfund a project to 3D print ears, and robotics were combined with 3D printing to design a prosthetic with a sense of touch. This last project was due to a collaboration between several Australian institutions, including the University of Wollongong, that was coordinated by St. Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and its Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery (ACMD). About a year ago, these three teamed up again to develop the BioPen, which is filled with stem cells and allows surgeons to essentially draw new cartilage into injured knees. We’ve now learned that Melbourne surgeons have successfully tested the breakthrough 3D bioprinting pen on six sheep.

Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery

The extraordinary BioPen, which lets surgeons use 3D printing technology to draw missing tissue into patients, both human and animal, was developed by the University of Wollongong and the ACMD, which is based at St. Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne. It uses an ink that’s similar to toothpaste, which mixes a gelatine substance with pluripotent stem cells, which are taken from the patient on the day of the surgery and put into special ink cartridges inside the pen.

Claudia Di Bella on ABC News [Image: St. Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne via Facebook]

Dr. Claudia Di Bella, an orthopaedic surgeon at St. Vincent’s Hospital, said, “[The pen] prints that in a material which is called hydrogel that allows your cells not just to survive but also increase in numbers and then make certain types of tissues, and in our case cartilage. The goal would be to try and repair certain injuries like cartilage injuries that at the moment are impossible to repair completely.”

Growth factors will actually spur the stem cells to grow into the exact kind of tissue that’s necessary – for now, it’s knee cartilage. Then, an ultraviolet light, affixed to the pen, dries the ink mixture on contact so surgeons can fill in the damaged area of the knee and build up layers. The BioPen was recently tested by treating 1 cm cartilage tears in six sheep, which were suffering from knee injuries not unlike those common to Australian football players.

Professor Peter Choong practises using a 3D pen on a model of a knee joint [Image: David Caird]

After a brief rehabilitation, the sheep were found to have regrown cartilage that was much stronger than the repair cartilage that grows after current treatments; the sheep were doing so well, in fact, that they were able to bear weight.

“The healing was exceptional. Although we have used this primarily for cartilage, we can already see how this can be used in a variety of other clinical situations,” explained Professor Peter Choong, an orthopaedic surgeon at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Philip Dalidakis, Victoria’s Small Business, Innovation, and Trade Minister, called the breakthrough astounding. During the sheep trials, Dr. Di Bella said that the technology was easy to use, and that surgeons did not run into any complications.

“The type of cartilage we were able to create was much superior compared to the other standard techniques we tried in the same sheep, which are the ones used normally in humans. It would be a fairly [easy], almost stock-standard surgical operation that we do already with a new instrument that is fairly easy to use,” Dr. Di Bella said.

Professor Peter Choong demonstrates the BioPen with medical students Domagoj Vodanovic and Benjamin Murphy [Image: St Vincent’s Hospital]

Professor Choong said that the BioPen technique could be adapted to treat multiple human conditions, like repairing damages muscles, tendons, and bones, and eventually even tissue in the lungs, heart, and liver. But for now, the focus is on printing live cells in order to prevent the onset of osteoarthritis. Young people, including athletes, who develop osteoarthritis early on puts a financial drain on the country’s health system, and Dr. Di Bella said that the technology is already on its way to being commercialized.

Dr. Di Bella said, “It is a big game changer not simply for athletes, because obviously it would be [good] for pain relief and getting back to the normal activities. In the big scheme of things if we decrease the number of patients that have osteoarthritis later in life, that would incredibly affect the health expenditure of society.”

The hope is for human trials for the BioPen to start within a year, and Professor Choong said the results of the sheep trials are being used to try and get a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council, which would be used to “perfect the treatment over the next three years.” Discuss in the BioPen forum at 3DPB.com.

Custom-printed cartilage

“We’re printing cells of the patient, directly into the same person!” Dr Claudia Di Bella talks about a very special 3D printing biopen!

Posted by The Project on Thursday, 25 May 2017

[Sources/Images: Herald Sun, ABC]

 

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