The life of a cancer survivor has been changed forever, thanks to a novel 3D printing technique developed by scientists at Indiana University.
The revolutionary technique uses 3D modeling and printing to create incredibly lifelike prosthetics faster than conventional methods.
The first patient for the process is Shirley Anderson, an Indiana resident who had been diagnosed with cancer on his tongue almost 18 years ago. Here is his story.
The Story Of Shirley Anderson
In 1997, doctors discovered a cancerous lump on Anderson's tongue. Shortly after, he began his radiation treatments. Unfortunately, the treatments destroyed his Adam's apple and his jaw.
To help him replace his lower jaw, Anderson underwent a radium implant. There were countless reconstructive surgery attempts, but all the procedures did not work. For years, Anderson used a surgical mask to hide his scarred face in public.
In 2012, Anderson received the help of a maxillofacial prosthodontics specialist named Dr. Travis Bellicchi from Indiana University.
Bellicchi has developed the largest prosthetics ever produced at the university: a traditional prosthesis made out of silicone just for Anderson.
However, Bellicchi soon discovered that traditional methods often resulted in prosthetics that were too uncomfortable and too heavy. Anderson could only wear the prosthetic for a few hours at a time.
The Shirley Technique
With this problem in mind, Bellicchi began working with students at the university's Media Arts and Sciences program to develop a new solution.
He eventually considered 3D printing and, with it, invented a process eventually known as the Shirley Technique, which combined novel and traditional approaches to the production of prosthesis.
First, Bellicchi and his team digitally scanned Anderson's face to capture details of the skull. This would allow researchers to test a much lighter prosthesis for the patient.
Scientists then used the digital sculpting software known as Zbrush to model a prosthetic jaw for Anderson. Zbrush was useful in creating the narrow feathered edges of the prosthetic, making it more lifelike.
Bellicchi says they chose to use traditional materials because they were predictable, biocompatible and had research behind them.
"[W]e know how to do the characterization to make them lifelike," adds Bellicchi.
Molds created through Zbrush were then printed using a Formlabs desktop 3D printer, researchers said. The resulting jaw prosthesis is truly remarkable and uncannily realistic.
When asked about his reaction over the prosthesis, Anderson described it — with the help of a whiteboard — as "true amazement."
The process used to create Anderson's prosthesis is truly efficient, as it can create the object in just six weeks. Bellicchi said six other patients have already received their own prosthesis. One man even received a prosthetic ear.
Watch the video below.