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Three D Printing and Cancer

Posted 12/19/2014

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  First, I do know that it is called "3D" not "Three D", but this blog system will not accept numbers in the title. Having said that, I think this is just wild. Very honestly, I find the whole concept of 3D printing difficult to understand; I wish that I could see a sample, as I suspect that would make it all much clearer--and even more impressive. Thanks to Barbara, I have just read two articles about the possible value of 3D printing in cancer care and in medicine in general.

  3D printing works by layering materials until a three dimensional model has been created. The technology has been used for a while in manufacturing and engineering, and is beginning to be used in medicine. In cancer, the plan is to create a 3D model of a tumor or the specific organ (lungs, liver, bone, etc) based on CT scans. The model is then filled with some kind of special liquid to enable scientists to study the flow of radiopharmaceuticals (and I never heard that word before either). Radiopharmaceuticals are drugs containing radioactivity that are injected into the tumor. The value of the 3D model is watching where the drugs go in order to assess the potential damage to adjacent tissue or structures.

  I am going to give you brief excerpts and then links to both articles about this. It really is fascinating science fiction-y stuff. The first is a short report from Reuters about 3D printing in cancer care, and the second is a longer and beautifully written article from The New Yorker by Dr. Jerome Groopman about the increasing use of this technology in medicine in general.

British scientists have developed a new use for 3D printing, putting it to work to create personalized
replica models of cancerous parts of the body to allow doctors to target tumors 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 specialized tools, moldings 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 orthopedic surgeons have tested them to make customized hip replacements. And last year U.S. scientists grew human ears from cow cells with the help of a 3D printer.
The new cancer work involves printing 3D "phantoms" of tumors 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.

And Groopman's article:


In  February of 2012,
 a medical team at the University of Michigan’s C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital, in Ann Arbor,
carried out an unusual operation on a three-month-old
boy. The baby had been born with a rare condition called
tracheobronchomalacia: the tissue of one portion of his airway
was so weak that it persistently collapsed. This made
breathing very difficult, and it regularly blocked vital blood
vessels nearby, including the aorta, triggering cardiac and
pulmonary arrest. The infant was placed on a ventilator, while
the medical team set about figuring out what to do. The area
of weak tissue would somehow need to be repaired or
replaced—a major and dangerous operation in so small a
patient. The team consulted with the baby’s doctors at Akron
Children’s Hospital, in Ohio, and they soon agreed that they
had just the right tool for this delicate, lifesaving task: a 3-D



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