A recently published study from Biofabrication reports of a newly constructed handheld tool, called the “biopen”, which can directly dispense stem cells to any surface, including human cells. Stem cells dispensed from the biopen have over 97% viability and are able to differentiate into the cells that surround them. Researchers of this study hope that this can be used in surgery rooms for osteoarthritis treatment by directly administering stem cells to joints where cartilage is damaged or missing.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and affects millions of people worldwide. It occurs as a result of the wearing of protective cartilage located at the ends of one’s bones, usually at the knee. To successfully repair any cartilage defects, chondrocytes (cells which make up the cartilage) are needed to fill the gaps of missing cartilage.
Recently, tissue engineering has become very popular and has been considered for osteoarthritis treatment. Through computer-directed fabrication, 3D tissue constructs can be made out of stem cells. Scientists are then able to attach them to the joint, where they will differentiate to match the cell type they are surrounded by (in this case, chondrocytes). The problem in this method lies in the inability for scientists to properly predict the shapes and sizes of gaps that need to be filled prior to surgery. Only after opening up the area, are scientists able to determine the gap needed to be filled by the bioengineered stem cell tissue, making pre-fabricated tissues through computer guidance redundant.
Researchers from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science have sought to fix this problem by inventing what they call a “biopen”. This biopen is a handheld tool which can directly deposit stem cells onto any surface it touches. Stem cells are stored within a hydrogel solution in the pen, and as they are dispensed out, they adhere to cells. Researchers determined that the viability of these dispensed stem cells was over 97%, proving that this method of treatment is plausible.
Researchers boast that this biopen could be a great tool in the surgery room, allowing surgeons to directly deposit stem cells to damaged cartilage at the push of a button. As well, they hope the biopen could be modified to help not only with bone and cartilage regeneration, but also with tissue regeneration and tissue replacement to help treat other medical diseases.
Written By: Alexandra Lostun, BSc