3D Printing

The medical world has long been looking for ways to apply 3D printing technology. An LSU professor may have just found a way.

Director of the Medical Physics Program Wayne Newhauser and his research team are working to make 3D printing technology a part of cancer treatment.

3D printing has the ability to help specialize treatments for individual patients. It is already providing cheaper prosthetics for amputees that cater to each patients’ needs.

Doctors are also using 3D models of a patient’s chest, face or other relevant body part to test potentially dangerous procedures before treating the patient.

The survival rate of nearly every type of cancer has greatly increased over the past 25 years due in part to more effective radiation therapy and chemotherapy, according to Cancer.org.

Over the past 20 years, cancer treatment and radiation therapy in particular, which is the delivery of high-energy beams or particles to kill cancer cells, has been getting more precise in targeting cancer cells and not healthy cells, according to the American Cancer Society. However, there are still many cases where patients are missing certain organs or other body parts, or have bodies that are usually fragile. For these patients, radiation therapy needs to be even more precise or the treatment may kill vital cells and tissues when trying to hit cancer cells.

“Radiation therapy is very safe and very effective, but there are some cases where we know that [radiation therapy] struggles,” Newhauser said.

One of the ways doctors have been continuing to perfect radiation therapy is through testing models called phantoms. These 3D models simulate a part of the body like the head, torso or even a full body model, and effectively serve as a testing dummy for doctors looking to calculate the correct radiation dose and placement before administering the treatment to a live patient. However, these phantoms are not usually made for a specific patient which presents problems when dealing with unusual cases.

“If you have a store-bought phantom, it’s going to look like the average person, and it may not be at all relevant to [certain patients],” Newhauser said. “You need to have a phantom that mimics those same anatomic characteristics [of the patient].”

Newhauser gave the example of a patient whose nose had been amputated. The standard tools at doctors’ disposal did not allow for the same preciseness as normal patients.

Newhauser said he hopes to use 3D printing technology in order to print phantoms for these patients with unique characteristics. His team is already able to convert CT scans, which almost every cancer patient receives, into a set of 3D printing instructions. From there, all they need is a special printer and ink to make a phantom specific to the patient.

As of now, Newhauser and his team have not used this technology on many patients, and are still in the testing phase of their research.

“The short-term goal is to show that it’s feasible to do this,” Newhauser said. “Everyone has known since [the] get-go that in theory it ought to work, but there’s quite a difference between being able to recognize that it will work and being able to demonstrate that it’ll work. Our goal is to print a whole body, a 3D personalized phantom that mimics the properties of an actual patient.”

After their testing phase is complete, Newhauser said they hope to find a company that can commercialize what they’ve done, so that 3D-printed phantoms can become more widely available to patients across the country.

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