Medical & Dental

Clinicians use 3D printed breast phantoms for safer and faster cancer diagnosis methods

Researchers from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Maryland have developed a new 3D printing software tool that aids in the creation of patient-specific 3D printed breast phantoms.

Breast phantoms are frequently used in place of breast tissue as test beds for mammography devices to ensure optimized breast cancer detection and treatment. Cancer Research UK estimates that more than 90% of women diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest stage survive their disease for at least 5 years; this diagnosis relies on the performance capabilities of mammography systems.

According to the research published in the Journal of Medical Imaging:

“With the introduced open-source software, researchers can easily create a collection of printed phantoms that reproduce the anatomic variability of real breasts, including varying densities, heterogeneous structures, architectural distortions, and benign and malignant lesions.”

Standard types of breast phantoms used in mammography research. Photo via Kyoto Kagaku.
Standard types of breast phantoms used in mammography research. Photo via Kyoto Kagaku.

The 3D Mammoreplicator

Lead researcher of the 3D printed breast phantoms study, Andreu Badal, Physicist at the FDA suggests that although typical phantoms enable clinicians to avoid exposing patients to unnecessary mammography radiation, its predetermined shape does not accurately represent the composition of patients’ breasts.

Considering this hindrance, Badal and researchers from the University of Maryland (UMD) developed an open-source program – the mammoreplicator – which converts standard 2D mammograms into accurate 3D virtual model replicas.

The 3D models can then be fabricated into a physical phantom, demonstrated by FDA researchers with the use of three mammograms drawn from the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) Cancer Genome Atlas.

Using the Stratasys Objet260 Connex3, the research team printed one of three breast phantoms in an estimated ten hours. The 3D printed models were composed of Tango Black Plus, PolyJet photopolymers, i.e. VeroMagenta, and polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), an acrylic glass material. In addition, each model required approximately $220 worth of raw materials.

After comparing mammograms from the 3D printed breast phantoms, the researchers found that both new and original mammograms scored similar on their structural similarity quality assessment index. The results of their research also found that the texture of the glandular and adipose tissues – found in the breast – were well-replicated in the 3D printed phantom mammograms.

3D printed breast mammography phantoms. Image via Andreu Badal.
3D printed breast mammography phantoms. Image via Andreu Badal.

3D printed breast cancer detector

Last year, the University of Twente (UT) in the Netherlands developed the 3D printed Stormram 4 robot, which is designed specifically for the collection of cells used for biopsy.

The Stormram 4, can be used directly within the magnetic chamber of an MRI scanner to provide a rate of precision impossible to achieve by hand. In addition, it is made using a high-resolution polyjet 3D printer and has been developed as a proof-of-concept for market development.

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Featured image shows 3D printed breast mammography phantoms. Image via Andreu Badal.