Over the past several years, 3D printing has gone from theory, to fun novelty, to possible threat. Now, the concept is being used as a medical game changer – helping several patients with unique facial prosthetic needs.
The first such patient was Shirley Anderson, an Indiana man who lost his jaw and Adam’s apple to treatment for an aggressive tongue cancer. Living life without a chin was difficult; an attempt by Dr. Travis Bellicchi, of the Indiana University School of Dentistry, to reconstruct his jaw using his own tissue didn’t take, and traditional prosthetics proved too heavy and unrealistic-looking.
Enter Professor Zebulun Wood, an IU coworker of Dr. Bellicchi’s at the School of Informatics and Computing, specializing in, among other subjects, 3D printing. Prof. Wood saw a way to use technology to not only create a lighter, more streamlined facial prosthesis for Shirley Anderson, but to avoid the labour and wait times required by traditional sculpting.
“For Shirley’s new prosthesis, instead of the uncomfortable impression process, they created what they call a ‘virtual patient’ — a digital model of Shirley’s face using CT scan data to capture bone detail, overlaid with a 3D facial scan. Dr. Bellicchi watched in amazement as Cade Jacobs, an IU student, designed a prosthesis in ZBrush 3D sculpting software in a fraction of the time it would have taken to sculpt it in clay.
The team used Formlabs 3D printers to turn the digital sculpt into a 3D printed mold, ready to cast for the final prosthesis. […]
The new 3D printed mold has a number of improvements on the original. It looks more realistic and is much lighter and more breathable so that Shirley feels comfortable wearing it for a longer period of time. The new prosthesis also has a ‘feather-edge margin’ around the outside, a tapered silicone edge that creates a more natural break.”
Shirley now has a new prosthesis that allows him to go about his public life seamlessly and in comfort, and IU has the bragging rights for having invented a faster, more helpful method for creating these important medical devices! It has been dubbed “The Shirley Technique” in dedication; the team has already expanded their patient pool to several others, and is actively seeking more.