Nov 28, 2017 | By David

Furthering the reach of the technology into crucial life-saving healthcare solutions, a group of researchers based in Spain have used 3D printing to develop a new method that will help with the treatment of patients with skin cancer. The team, based at Rovira i Virgili University, the IISPV Institute and the Sant Joan de Reus Hospital, can protect healthy skin from the effects of radiotherapy using 3D printed custom parts, based on a scan of the patient’s face.

One of the principal radiotherapy treatment techniques is known as brachytherapy, and it consists of placing radioactive material in direct contact with the tumor. Healthy skin surrounding the tumor will be damaged by this method, unless something is physically placed in the way to protect it. Current methods make use of a manual manufacturing method, using a mold and a special alginate material. This algae moldable substance has to stay on the patient’s face for up to 24 hours, and it is therefore an extra source of discomfort to patients who are already dealing with the trauma and symptoms of a potentially life-threatening condition.

3D printing technology makes the process of creating the protective piece a whole lot easier and more comfortable. Doctors take a CT scan, which is then digitally converted to create a virtual 3D model of the patient’s face. A piece can then be 3D printed from this model. Not only does this technique take a mere seven hours instead of 24, the resulting piece will be a much better fit to the patient than one made with the mold, which allows the radiation treatment to be administered much more accurately and effectively. Inital tests of this process were carried out for patients with cancers in the nasal area, as this is the most irregular and presents the greatest challenge for making facial protective pieces. Their success means that the technique can be easily applied to any other area of the body.

Radiophysicists at the Hospital Sant Joan de Reus are still experimenting with the best material that can be used to 3D print with. So far, the protective pieces have been 3D printed using PLA filament, but tests should soon be underway with other materials. Regardless of what material is eventually used, the technique will prove to be significantly cheaper than the conventional molding process. Andreu Sintas, an electrical engineer from the URV and a laboratory technician who led the investigation, says that "Its cost is also cheaper overall, because the wax that is used now is more expensive than the material needed by the 3D printer."

Sintas, along with his colleagues Domènec Puig, from the Department of Computer Engineering and Mathematics of the URV, and researchers Meritxell Arenas and Monica Arguís, from the IISPV and University Hospital Sant Joan de Reus, published their work in the Journal of Contemporary Brachytherapy. As soon as the best possible material is found and investment is made to acquire the materials and train the staff in the use of these new tools, the new 3D printing method will be implemented in the hospital on a regular basis. The research was funded by the Oncology Association Dr. Amadeu Pelegrí, which is an entity committed to oncological research that raises money to support and advance cancer research projects.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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