Cancer treatment to benefit from 3D printing

British researchers have used 3D printing to create replica models of cancerous parts of the body to help doctors target tumours more precisely.

The research was conducted at The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust with the aim of improving molecular therapy – a prescribed radioactive drug is supposed to kill cancer cells without damaging healthy tissue.

Preliminary tests showed that the models allowed the dose of radiation a patient has received to be calculated more accurately due to the fact tumours and organs were minutely reproduced. This will allow for subsequent radiation doses to be adjusted accordingly depending on the severity of the case.

Dr Jonathan Gear, study co-leader, said: “Our research is aiming to find new ways to fine-tune the amounts of radiation given to patients as part of their treatment. There’s no reason why, in the future, treatment planning can’t incorporate 3D-printing technology to help improve radiation dosing for patients.”

The models, known as ‘phantoms’ and originally hand-made by researchers, are based on scans taken during patient treatment. If the results are confirmed in larger studies, 3D printing could be used to significantly improve the accuracy of dosing during molecular radiotherapy.

“We found that the printed replicas could give us information we couldn’t get from 2D scans – you will always get more information from a 3D model than a flat image,” said Dr Gear. 

According to Dr Glenn Flux, head of Radioisotope Physics, the study’s findings are a welcome addition to the existing uses of 3D printing in prosthetics or to inform surgery, with the potential of improving cancer treatment considerably.

“We’re really excited by this technology and the potential it has for personalising cancer treatment with highly targeted radiation,” Dr Flux said.

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