If you need knee replacement surgery in the future, doctors may be able to create a custom-made joint from your own stem cells. A team from St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, have developed the Biopen, a type of 3D printer that uses “ink” made from hydrogel and stem cells. While 3D printing stem cells isn’t new, the exact shape of a patient’s cartilage often can’t be known until they’re cut open. Using the device, surgeons can precisely customize the joint to the patient with surgical “scaffolds,” then permanently harden the biogel using ultraviolet light.
Built from medical-grade plastic and titanium in consultation with doctors, the Biopen is supposedly up to the challenges of an operating room. “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,” says Professor Peter Choong, Director of Orthopaedics at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.