A project at the University of Limerick (UL), Ireland, is using 3D scanning and printing to create custom breast prostheses that can be produced at the point of care for a fraction of the cost of current solutions. The university says the method is a first-of-its-kind service using digital manufacturing for breast prostheses.
“The ability to provide bespoke prostheses, regardless of shape and size, to perfectly match the residual breast is a significant improvement over the current standard of care for women who have undergone a mastectomy,” said Kevin J. O’Sullivan, a senior research fellow at UL’s Rapid Innovation Unit. “There is a need for a renewed focus on quality of life and the application of user-centric design to develop innovative solutions for these patients. We have an incredibly talented PhD researcher, EmmaJude Lyons, who is funded by Breakthrough Cancer Research, who has taken this project from concept to advanced prototypes in a few short months,” he added.
“This service is a gamechanger for women who have had a mastectomy and who choose not to, or who are not suitable for, breast reconstruction,” said Chwanrow Baban, MD, PhD, consultant general and oncoplastic breast surgeon at University Hospital Limerick’s Symptomatic Breast Cancer Unit. “Available options for prosthesis are not always the best fit for our patients and this exciting project is all about improving the quality-of-life for women post-mastectomy. “This is the first service of its kind in Ireland, and we are not aware of another breast service in the world that is offering this to women.”
“So many women are diagnosed with breast cancer here in Ireland each year, and where mastectomy is often a vital route when delivering lifesaving treatment, I am keenly aware that such alterations can significantly affect women’s self-esteem post-treatment,” said Lorraine Walsh, MD, consultant radiation oncologist, Mater Private Network Mid-Western Radiation Oncology Centre. “This was our north star driving our innovations for the 3D breast prostheses pilot scheme.”
The Rapid Innovation Unit, a collaborative research group between the university and University Limerick Hospital Group, has extensive experience in the use of 3D printing at the point of care. The team of design researchers in the Rapid Innovation Unit have worked to deploy state-of-the-art digital manufacturing to rapidly address patient specific needs in the clinical setting.
Dr O’Sullivan explained: “The work we are doing across the UL Hospitals Group is incredibly rewarding, we see time and time again how the ‘one-size-fits-most’ approach is severely lacking to treat some of the most deserving patients.
“The application of digital manufacturing allows us to address needs that may only be specific to one individual patient, but that have a huge impact on quality of life. “Solving these individual problems on the ground allows us to build the research needed to translate solutions to the wider patient population.”
Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by the University of Limerick.