One of the largest nonprofit health care centers in the US, Banner Health owns and operates nearly 30 facilities, including acute-care hospitals, family clinics, and outpatient surgery centers, in six states out west; one of these is the private, nonprofit North Colorado Medical Center (NCMC). For the first time, Banner Health is expanding its cancer care at NCMC’s Oncology Department through the use of 3D printing technology.
In order to improve treatment for its cancer patients currently undergoing radiation, NCMC is using a LulzBot 3D printer from Aleph Objects, also located in Colorado. Earlier this month, NCMC treated its first skin cancer patient with a 3D printed mold, also called a bolus. Dr. Alexander Markovic, the Medical Physics Program Director for NCMC’s Radiation Oncology, and his team developed the NCMC Cancer Institute’s new 3D printing program, soon after receiving a LulzBot TAZ 6 in December of 2016, only a few months after the 3D printer debuted at RAPID.
Before Dr. Markovic’s team could apply 3D printing technology to a treatment plant, they had to go through several months of training and testing, but have now put the training, and the printer itself, to good use.
NCMC surgeons removed cancer from the inside of patient Darrell French’s ear, and he is currently over halfway through his six-week radiation treatment. Before the treatment began, Dr. Markovic’s team used French’s CAT scans and 3D modeling to print out a bolus on the TAZ 6, using flexible NinjaFlex filament. The bolus wraps around the outside and inside of his ear, and ensures that the correct dosage of radiation is applied to the right area.
French said, “It works really well and it hasn’t bothered me at all. After three weeks, the inside of my ear is fine.”
Less precise materials, like gauze, were once used to cover and cup cancer treatment areas, before the NCMC team was able to use a 3D printer to make a bolus. These were not the best solutions, as the materials created air pockets that diluted a patient’s dose of radiation. But thanks to the TAZ 6, NCMC doctors are able to 3D print a bolus, with 0.5 mm accuracy, in six to eight hours.
“In the past, we resorted to using simple techniques such as gauze or rubber-like elastic materials to help better distribute radiation dose onto the patient’s skin surface. The new 3D printer allows us to create custom molds that perfectly conform to a patient’s skin, ensuring more accurate and timely treatment delivery,” explained Jeffrey Albert, MD, who specializes in radiation oncology with Banner Health.
“The sky’s the limit when it comes to 3D printing. With the 3D printed bolus, we are able to better target the radiation dose so that the treatment is more effective,” said Dr. Markovic.
His team is also using the TAZ 6 to 3D print body parts, in order to show patients examples of different treatment plans, as well as planning to utilize 3D printing technology to treat other types of cancer, like breast cancer. Additionally, other Banner Health facilities are getting primed to roll out the new 3D printing program: in the coming months, the McKee Medical Center in Colorado and the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Arizona will both be implementing 3D printing technology.
Aleph Objects President Harris Kenney said, “Desktop 3D printers are increasingly being adopted for end-use applications. Providing highly personalized care from a doctor’s desktop is an exciting example of what is possible with 3D printing in healthcare and other fields.”
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