The exact shape of a patient’s cartilage is unknown up until the moment that they are on the operating table and are cut open. Which means being able to print cartilage right then and there would be essential to creating custom-made joints using your own stem cells—which is exactly what the biopen can do.
It functions as a 3D printer that can create surgical scaffolds, which can then be permanently hardened using ultraviolet light. You can check out the process in this video below of the biopen’s early prototype—but note that the current version has been significantly improved, as discussed in the paper published in Biofabrication.
The device (made of medical grade plastic and titanium) was the result of a collaborative effort between scientists and clinicians—the latter to identify the problem and the former addressing it by proposing a solution.
There is no word yet on when the technology will be made available for consumer use, but once it does, it also has the potential to be used in other surgeries that require custom tissue regeneration.