Around 80 percent of Australians over 65 years old live with a debilitating condition called osteoarthritis, which occurs when cartilage defects between joints cause painful bone-on-bone contact. In addition to the individual’s pain and reduced mobility, it costs our economy over $2 billion per year (Arthritis Australia). While joint replacement—a major surgery—remains a viable option for some patients, limited preventative treatments are available. Orthopaedic surgeon, Prof Peter Choong, thought more could be done to prevent osteoarthritis, and in 2013 he contacted biofabrication pioneer, Professor Gordon Wallace: What if we could 3D print the right cells during surgery to encourage the tissue to regenerate?
The Biopen presents a new way to treat cartilage injuries by enabling surgeons to print stem cells into the defect site. It uses the patient’s own cells, surrounded by protective and growth enhancing factors, to create the right kind of (hyaline) cartilage needed to restore joint and tissue function, reduce pain and prevent or delay osteoarthritis. It also allows the surgeon tailor the implant to the size of the wound during surgery.
The Biopen promises patients a personalised treatment to prevent osteoarthritis by delivering the right cells, to the exact, required location during surgery to promote tissue regeneration. It represents an exciting advance not only in the fields of cartilage and bone regeneration, but also in other fields where in situ tissue regeneration and replacement are critical to quality of life, such as burn wounds, wound healing, corneal regeneration and cardiac muscle regeneration.
Prof Peter Choong
Dr Claudia DiBella
Prof Gordon Wallace
Dr Serena Duchi
Di Bella, C., Fosang, A., Donati, D. M., Wallace, G. G. & Choong, P. F. M. 3D Bioprinting of Cartilage for Orthopedic Surgeons: Reading between the Lines. Front. Surg. 2, 1–7 (2015).