SURGEONS may be on the path to "drawing" new bone in patients following a world-first Melbourne medical breakthrough.
A "biopen" containing stem cells and growth factors, to repair damaged and diseased bone, is being developed by Melbourne's St Vincent's Hospital and the University of Wollongong.
The device works in a similar way to 3D printing methods to develop new tissue, combining cells mixed in a seaweed extract and coated in a protective gel.
Two layers of material combine in the head of the biopen as a surgeon uses it to "fill in" a damaged section of bone in a patient.
An ultraviolet light fixed to the device dries the mixture as it is dispensed, allowing it to be built up in layers, thus constructing a 3D scaffold of new bone.
The university's Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science has handed the invention over to St Vincent's Hospital, where Professor Peter Choong will continue developing the cell material for use in clinical trials.
Prof Choong said the biopen would allow surgeons to adjust reconstructive surgery for trauma and cancer patients.
"The biopen allows the surgeon to fill that gap, to sculpt that and personalise the reconstruction to the dimensions of the patient in real time," Prof Choong said.
"In the long term, we hope to use the biopen to actually print out material that helps create the bone with cells in it ... which is a very novel concept.
"This provides a new way we can look at reconstructing patients, and how we can reconstruct them in a way that preserves as much of their own tissue as we can and bring them back to normality as closely as we can."
It has already been demonstrated that the "ink" can regrow cartilage in animals, when used in a scaffold produced by a 3D printer.