Jun 30, 2016 | By Benedict

Researchers at Indiana University have used 3D printing to create a complex facial prosthesis for cancer survivor Shirley Anderson, who lost his tongue, jaw, and Adam’s apple after years of surgeries and radiation therapy. The researchers have called their process the ‘IU Shirley Technique’.

68-year-old Vietnam veteran Shirley Anderson was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 1998, and went through a number of treatments, including surgery and chemotherapy, in order to combat the disease. The patient fought hard, but the sheer amount of radiation he faced eventually took its toll, and Anderson eventually lost his tongue, jaw, and Adam’s apple. Since then, Anderson has been forced to wear a mask over his face to cover his disfigurement. But with his wife-of-50-years Della by his side, the veteran has tried to live a normal life, and now communicates through Della and by writing on a small whiteboard.

Della and Shirley Anderson have been married for fifty years.

Because of the severity of Anderson’s disfigurement, effective facial prostheses have been hard to come by, but a team of researchers at Indiana University has now used advanced 3D design software and 3D printing technology to create a full jaw prosthesis for the cancer survivor. The prosthetic device is lighter and better fitting than comparable models, and Anderson did not have to go through a difficult molding process in order to have it made—3D scans were obtained instead.

When the Andersons contacted IU’s School of Dentistry about the possibility of creating a prosthesis for Shirley, staff at the university knew that they would be taking on a big challenge.  Fortunately, it was a challenge they were ready to face: “The prosthesis necessary to rehabilitate Shirley is larger than anything we’ve made here at Indiana University,” explained Travis Bellicchi, a Maxillofacial Prosthodontic Fellow at IU’s School of Dentistry. “In someone’s career in my field you may never be challenged with a prosthesis of this nature.”

Dr. Travis Bellicchi holds a reproduction of Shirley’s face that was used to make his prosthesis.

To create Anderson’s replacement jaw, the IU Dentistry researchers needed help—from the university’s School of Informatics and Computing, whose 3D printing whizzkid Cade Jacobs was tasked with helping Bellichi to digitally design a prosthesis that would fit Anderson’s face perfectly. When Jacobs’ initial design was completed, the student printed a prototype on a Formlabs Form 2 3D printer for fitting. When all measurements were finalized, a 3D printed mold was created, also on the Form 2, and the final silicone prosthesis was made using that mold.

According to the IU team, creating Anderson’s prosthesis using ZBrush design software and the Formlabs 3D printer has proven to be much cheaper than clay casting: ”It is dramatically more cost effective to reprint a mold rather than recreate a plaster mold,” Bellicchi said. “When working with traditional methods, you would have to go back and re-sculpt the prosthesis in clay or wax in order to make new molds. A digital workflow allows you to easily access your design data and recreate your work easily and efficiently.”

As well as being more cost-effective, the 3D printing process used to create Anderson’s new prosthetic also saved the patient a great deal of pain and discomfort. The process of fitting and wearing a molded prosthesis can be incredibly difficult, while they are also heavy and need to be attached with glue. Moreover, the patient is often required to breathe through straws—an incredibly uncomfortable experience—in order to have the device fitted. The prosthesis made with 3D printing is different: the team simply took photos of Anderson’s face from different angles in order to generate the 3D model.

According to Della, her husband has remained positive through his trials and tribulations because he knows that his suffering will eventually help others going through the same experience as him. For example, by experimenting with Anderson’s prosthesis, the IU researchers have now dramatically improved their ability to create complex facial prostheses. “He is mainly wanting to do this to help others,” Della told the Daily Dot. "Soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan that have had their faces injured, burn victims, and any kind of accident that takes away something from the face."

The success of Anderson’s prosthetic jaw has led Bellichi and Jacobs to seek out other patients who could benefit from the 3D printing process, and the team has now created devices for six patients in total. In honor of their first patient, the IU researchers have dubbed their printing process the ‘IU Shirley Technique’. Anderson himself will get a chance to try out the team's next-generation hollowed-out prosthesis, which promises to be even lighter and more comfortable than its predecessor, in the near future.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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