Medical treatments including prostheses, accurate models for surgery and implants are all known and documented applications of 3D printing (with 3D printed organs on the way) that require high precision (and often high cost) 3D printing processes. One aspect that has not yet been sufficiently explored, and that may be a gateway to consumer adoption of 3D printing, is the use of more basic 3D manufacturing technologies to create products that are borderline, that is they can have a medical use but do not necessarily require hard to obtain medical approvals and permits to be used.
One such example was the recently announced made-to-measure insoles or protective masks for physical activity. Another has just been introduced, almost by chance, by the unusual partnership between a British Columbia Art Gallery and a Cancer Treatment Agency.
On request by Piotr Dubrowski, a medical physicist working with a patient suffering from a melanoma on his face, amateur 3D printing artist, Darren Ditto, used a Cube X Duo 3D Printer that had just been acquired by the Two Rivers Art Gallery, to develop a radiotherapy mask for cancer treatment, using a 3D scan of the patient’s face as a model.
Although 3D printing the mask takes longer than the traditional process — which creates the mould by applying plaster directly to the patient’s face — the production time (except for the 3D scan) can take place without the patient actually being present and without him or her having to sit through an invasive and uncomfortable procedure.
In the future it is easy to imagine that we will all have digital 3D models of our own faces, much like we have had ID photos for many decades. We may even get them done in public 3D scanning booths such as the one presented by 3D Systems at CES 2014. At that point we won’t even need to get a 3D scan done but will just send the file in to be 3D printed for infinite possible applications
Radiotherapy moulds are necessary to keep the patient absolutely still during irradiation so they must be made to fit perfectly. They can already be made in plastic but even that procedure, although less complex than the plaster casting, is still uncomfortable, as you can see from the video below. The fact that the patient at the end of the video says specifically that “it is not so uncomfortable” seems to indicate that discomfort is in fact a concern.
“For patients with a high pain level, or with claustrophobia, [3D printing the mask] is nice because it’s very, very non-invasive for them”, said Dr. Dubrowski, to Canadian news website Cbc.ca, assuring that he intends to continue working with the gallery to develop new 3D printed patient-specific medical products. “It’s a quick scan,” he added, “and we can send the patient home. And then we take the time that we need to create these moulds. When the patient arrives, everything’s ready for them to begin treatment.”