Scientists at the University of Wollongong (that’s a real place) in Australia have developed a device that replaces traditional surgery with something more akin to an art project. The BioPen is a handheld 3D printer that can actually print bone directly onto patients during surgery. Soon, surgeons will simply be able to doodle their patients back to health.
The BioPen uses a stem cell ink which can be coaxed into differentiating into muscle, bone, or nerve cells. A seaweed-based growth culture encourages the cells to thrive in their new environment while a second polymer, cured by the use of a UV light, provides a protective shell during the healing process. The complex and adaptive bio-ink can even be further augmented to include growth hormone and other substances that would encourage rapid recovery.
Obviously, the BioPen isn’t quite ready for commercial use just yet. Next stop for this bone-writing wonder is St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, where it will undergo clinical testing. If all goes well, we could eventually see surgeons world-wide signing up for art classes in preparation for their new jobs as the human body’s installation artists.