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Biologics Feature

Courtesy University of Wollongong, Australia

Down Under IS Hotbed of 3D Printing

Biloine W. Young • Wed, June 7th, 2017

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If 3D printing in the medical field rocks your boat, Australia is the place to watch.

An Australian woman recently received a 3D-printed titanium jaw implant. A team of Australian researchers are working to 3D printed ears, and robotics have been combined with 3D printing to design a prosthetic with a sense of touch.

Several Australian institution—the University of Wollongong, St. Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery are working together.

These three institutions teamed up last year to develop the BioPen. The pen is filled with stem cells and allows surgeons to draw new cartilage into injured knees. Melbourne surgeons have since successfully tested the 3D bioprinting pen on six sheep.

According to Claudia Di Bella, M.D, an orthopedic surgeon at St. Vincent’s Hospital, the pen uses an ink that is similar in texture to toothpaste. It is mixed 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.

Di Bella said that growth factors will 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.

Doctors recently tested the BioPen by treating 1 cm cartilage tears in six sheep—injuries that were similar to those experienced by Australian football players. After a brief rehabilitation, the sheep regrew 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 Peter Choong, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

During the sheep trials, 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.” Di Bella said.

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