Imagine a simple, handheld device, really no larger than a highlighter, that could heal injuries and repair joints using stem cells? Such a stem cell joint repair device is being developed right now by a research team from the University of Wollongong and St. Vincent’s Hospital in Australia.
The “biopen” is essentially a handheld 3D printer that uses stem cells from the host to repair cartilage injuries by using “bioink” to create a 3D scaffold over the injured joint, basically a blueprint from which the stem cells will differentiate and heal in the manner needed.
THE ULTIMATE TOOL FOR STEM CELL JOINT REPAIR?
Though the idea of the biopen seems like something out of a movie, the research team has already seen some real-world success with a 2017 clinical trial on sheep that healed their cartilage damage much faster and more effectively than the traditional method used on the control group.
“The results were exceptional, certainly better than expected. We found that the biopen performed markedly better in terms of quality and characteristics of new cartilage formation,” St. Vincent surgeon Claudia di Bella said in a statement.
“The main goal of the study was to test the translation ability of this technique and its applicability in the surgical field, and this was certainly achieved.”
The success of this trial led to a $1 million dollar grant from the Australian government’s BioMedTech Horizons program in April 2018. The money will go towards an advanced prototype and improvements to the bioink that will hopefully set the state for a publically available stem cell joint repair therapy in the near future.
THE FUTURE OF STEM CELL JOINT REPAIR
The biopen has the potential to repair and prevent a whole host of joint injuries and conditions. In particular, because joint trauma and loss of cartilage leads directly to osteoarthritis, the biopen’s ability to repair joint damage quickly and more fully than traditional surgical procedures means that it can prevent osteoarthritis from developing at all.
Additionally, because of the precision offered from the biopen’s design, its stem cells can be applied directly onto the joint defect with much more precision and ease than the complex, expensive surgeries currently on offer.
However, the real potential for this technology is for its 3D scaffolding application of stem cell joint repair to one day be used on other parts of the human body. For instance, researchers are working on sister devices to the biopen for eye damage and another for creating 3D printed ears for children.
“The biopen was our first foray into customized printing approaches for specific clinical applications,” UoW’s Gordon Wallace told Physics World. “We now have an advanced programme for developing specially-designed printers and bioink formulations for use in a number of areas.”
Until the biopen becomes commercially available, RegenerVate’s collection of PRP injections remain on the cutting edge of stem cell joint repair. Contact us today for a consultation!