3D printing offers smarter cancer treatment

British scientists have developed a new use for 3D printing, putting it to work to create personalised replica models of cancerous parts of the body to allow doctors to target tumours more precisely.

The initiative is the latest example of medicine harnessing the rapidly emerging technology, which has already been used to manufacture some medical implants.

3D printing makes products by layering material until a three-dimensional object is created. Automotive and aerospace companies use it for producing prototypes as well as creating specialised tools, mouldings and some end-use parts.

In healthcare, 3D printers are used by dentists to create replicas of jaws and teeth, as well as some finished dental implants, while orthopaedic surgeons have tested them to make customised hip replacements. And last year United States scientists grew human ears from cow cells with the help of a 3D printer.

The new cancer work involves printing 3D “phantoms” of tumours and organs based on CT scans taken of patients during treatment. These plastic moulds can be filled with liquid, allowing experts see in detail the flow of so-called radiopharmaceuticals.

Radiopharmaceuticals are drugs containing radioactive material that may be injected into a vein, taken by mouth or placed in a body cavity. The challenge is to give a dose that is high enough to kill cancer cells, without causing excessive collateral damage to healthy tissue.

Glenn Flux, head of radioisotope physics at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, believes accurate modelling will allow doctors in future to fine-tune dosing, resulting in the likely routine use of such 3D printouts.

“If we personalise treatment according to the radiation dose delivered to the tumour, then we should have a better outcome,” he said.

“I think it will have a huge impact.”

Flux and colleagues published a technical paper on their process in the journal Medical Physics in July, showing the models can accurately replicate the shape of a patient's tumour and the surrounding organs, and are now looking to confirm the benefits in larger studies.

Radiopharmaceuticals are used to treat a number of different tumours, including thyroid cancer, cancers of nerves cells in children and certain tumours that have spread to the bones. Interest in the field has been fuelled by the recent launch of Bayer’s prostate cancer radiopharmaceutical Xofigo.

The team in London used a 3D printer from Stratasys, one of the leading suppliers of high-end machines.

In October, Stratasys executives said the global 3D-printing market was expected to swell from $3 billion (about R35 billion) last year to $21 billion by 2020, according to industry research.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
Who do you think is going to win the 2020 US election?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Biden is going to take it
47% - 7514 votes
It's four more years for Trump
53% - 8641 votes
Vote
ZAR/USD
16.19
(-0.10)
ZAR/GBP
21.11
(-0.12)
ZAR/EUR
19.19
(-0.12)
ZAR/AUD
11.55
(-0.13)
ZAR/JPY
0.15
(-0.14)
Gold
1901.55
(+0.01)
Silver
24.57
(+0.10)
Platinum
902.03
(+0.40)
Brent Crude
41.85
(-1.66)
Palladium
2378.04
(+0.61)
All Share
55339.58
(+0.99)
Top 40
50692.28
(+0.83)
Financial 15
10790.70
(+3.99)
Industrial 25
74905.70
(+1.05)
Resource 10
52561.57
(-0.49)
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo