Melbourne surgeons have used a 3D printer biopen filled with stem cell ink to “draw” new cartilage into damaged knees, opening up a world of possibilities for human body part replacements.
The breakthrough Biopen paves the way for the Melbourne-led team eventually to repair damage to bones, muscles and tendons, and even to tissue in organs such as the heart, the liver, and the lungs. It has been used in six sheep to repair knee injuries similar to those commonly suffered by Australian rules footballers. St Vincent’s Hospital orthopaedic surgeon Professor Peter Choong said the technique could be adapted to treat a range of conditions in humans.
“The healing was exceptional,” Prof Choong said. “Although we have used this primarily for cartilage, we can already see how this can be used in a variety of other clinical situations.”
The Biopen was developed by the Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery, based at St Vincent’s Hospital, and the University of Wollongong. It allows surgeons to use 3D printing technology to draw missing tissue into a patient. The toothpaste-like ink mixes a gelatine substance with pluripotent stem cells that can be taken from a patient on the day of the surgery. Growth factors spur the stem cells to grow into the specific type of tissue needed. An ultraviolet light fixed to the pen causes the ink mixture to dry on contact, allowing surgeons to build up layers and fill in the damaged area.
St Vincent’s orthopaedic surgeons used the Biopen to treat 1cm cartilage tears in sheep. After short periods of rehabilitation, the sheep were all able to bear weight and had regrown cartilage far stronger than “repair cartilage” found after existing treatments.
Prof Choong said the results were now being used to push for a National Health and Medical Research Council grant to perfect the treatment over the next three years.
Victoria’s Small Business, Innovation and Trade Minister, Philip Dalidakis, said the breakthrough was nothing short of astounding.
The not-for-profit Advanced Biofabrication Centre is the first hospital based multidisciplinary centre in Australia designed to improve the health outcomes for Australians. Researchers and clinicians will work alongside each other with a vision to replace lost or damaged joints and limbs through tumour, trauma or degeneration.
St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne (SVHM) has assembled a coalition of biologists, material science experts, biomedical engineers, and robotic experts to drive medical innovation and become an Australian leader in this fast growing industry of bionics research. University of Melbourne staff involved in this exciting new venture include researchers from the Department of Medicine and Radiology, and the Department of Surgery.
Accelerating Discoveries Together
Disorders such as cancers, trauma and degeneration lead to reduced lifespan through disability. Although they don’t lead directly to mortality, their impact on the ability to live independently and continue productive working life is severely debilitating to both individuals and society. In Australia alone, this is estimated to cost $34.2billion per year. At St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne the 3D Bioprinting revolution has been established within the Advanced Biofabrication Centre – which is a precursor to the Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery (ACMD). Biofabrication will be one element of the ambitious ACMD. At the Advanced Biofabrication Centre, researchers will build biological structures such as organs, bones, brain, muscle, nerves and glands: almost anything that requires repair through disease and physical trauma.
At the Centre of Discovery
The Advanced Biofabrication Centre will be the first hospital-based multinational disciplinary Centre in Australia designed to facilitate translational research to improve the health outcomes for Australians.
Our vision is to bring researchers together to drive medical innovations such as re-engineered limbs, muscles, tissues and nerves. We have the capabilities, research and clinical expertise to use new materials and stem cell technologies to drive this vision, and deliver life-changing opportunities for many patients.
The Centre will enable key researchers and clinicians to explore the real-time development and production of replacement body parts, which can be surgically implanted into patients. Our vision is that this will eventually lead to real-time printing of 3D implants, while a patient is in surgery. The Centre is a flagship initiative within the eventual Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery multi-institutional endeavor. The vision of the ACMD partners is to collaborate in a dedicated hub, fusing medicine, engineering, science and industry to revolutionise how we approach medical solutions to chronic health problems.
St Vincent’s has an established track record in health and medical research, as well as clinical trials. Our clinicians and researchers will inform basic research with expert clinical insights, identification of unmet patient needs and also translate research findings to patients to drive improvements in clinical outcomes.