Stem cells have the capacity to be used to reconstruct and repair native tissues, but to apply them so that they survive and live on in their new home can be quite challenging. Now researchers at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science have developed a “biopen” that can deposit stem cells wherever needed. The technology was developed to allow surgeons to repair damaged cartilage within the intra-articular confines of joints.
The stem cells are first encapsulated within a hydrogel ink that is pushed through the pen. A light within the pen is used to adhere the material together as it is dispensed out. The surgeon simply pushes a button on the pen and the stem cell/hydrogel material is released and deposited onto whatever the pen touches.
Amazingly, in laboratory studies the researchers achieved a greater than 97% survival of the cells deposited using the biopen.
Some details from the study abstract in journal Biofabrication:
A gelatin–methacrylamide/hyaluronic acid–methacrylate (GelMa/HAMa) hydrogel was printed and UV crosslinked during the deposition process to generate surgically sculpted 3D structures. Custom titanium nozzles were fabricated to allow printing of multiple ink formulations in a collinear (side-by-side) geometry. Independently applied extrusion pressure for both chambers allows for geometric control of the printed structure and for the creation of compositional gradients. In vitro experiments demonstrated that human adipose stem cells maintain high viability (>97%) one week after biopen printing in GelMa/HAMa hydrogels.