Scan the World and 3D Printing Contribute to Cancer Research


2 months ago

Scan the World grants you with the ability enjoy cultural artefacts digitally from around the world that you may often have limited access to. Particularly during uncertain times such as these in which you may find yourself lacking culture, with museums and other cultural institutions closing their doors to the public because of the COVID pandemic.

However, the significance of Scan the World goes beyond that. We got an opportunity to speak with medical research specialists Trevor and Karissa to learn about how Scan the World and 3D printing has assisted them in cancer research. Here is an account of their experience with 3D printing and using Scan the World’s platform.



When I put together my first 3D printer 2 years ago, my family wouldn't stop making fun of me. They thought it was just another nerdy leisure investment. And for a while, that was true. I used my Prusa to print things like figurines, cookie cutters, and random things for the house. But they didn't imagine that I would use it for research later on.

During our junior year of college, a few engineering students and I began working with a radiation oncologist to design a patient-specific bolus to be used in radiation therapy. A bolus is a material that helps radiation build up close to the surface of the skin, where there may be a tumor. The problem with existing boluses is that they are semi-stiff.

Imagine a flat, rectangular sheet with the consistency of a gel shoe insert. Somewhat flexible, but not able to perfectly conform to a patient's unique and complex anatomy. As a result, there can be an air gap between the bolus and the patient's skin, resulting in inconsistent dosing. This may then cause problems such as burning and soreness for the patient.

This issue with the air gap is particularly prominent with tumors close to the skin in regions with complex anatomy. For example, the pelvic region. The radiation oncologist we work with specializes in such cases, so we designed our first device for the male pelvic region.

We wanted to create a bolus that was both functional and comfortable. To fit these needs, we opted for silicone as the material. In order to avoid adding hassle or disrupting the standard care process, we wanted to generate the bolus from the CT scan that radiation oncologists use to plan each patient's treatment. This CT scan is considered standard of care because it's something that is already part of the care process.

By using this CT scan to design the device, we would not be requiring any extra testing or information from the patient to create their custom bolus. Our idea was to use the patient's CT scan to create a mold, designed specifically for them. This mold would then be 3D printed and case with silicone rubber to create their custom bolus.

To test our idea, we needed a CT scan so that we could begin figuring out how to create and manufacture the mold. It didn't make sense to start on a live patient right away, so we wanted to use a phantom (a mannequin or dummy used in radiation therapy). At first, it seemed that we could use the popular RANDO phantom.

The RANDO phantom is shaped like a human (complete with fake bones and organs) and shows up well on CT scans.  But after we took a CT scan of the RANDO phantom, we realized he would not meet our needs. The RANDO phantom we had access to was composed of many slices, which were then fitted together to create the human shape. Our RANDO phantom's pieces did not fit together smoothly, resulting in sharp edges on his "body". Because of these sharp contours, he was no longer representative of a real human.



The RANDO phantom (radiation dummy) available to us was composed of pieces that did not fit together smoothly, resulting in sharp edges. Because of these sharp contours, the phantom was not representative of a human body.


At this point, we felt a bit stumped. Phantoms were the industry standard for preliminary testing and design such as we were doing. For our purposes, the RANDO phantom wasn't an accurate approximation of a real patient. But we also didn't have an ample budget to buy a different phantom. So, in the style of amateur researchers and makers, we decided to design and 3D print our own phantom!

We needed to design a human-shaped phantom, with all the organic contours that a real patient might have. A few hours into trying to create this shape from scratch in CAD software, we realized that this was out of our scope. It occurred to us that there might be existing models that we could use and modify.

After a couple of days of looking up "STLs of nude men" (thank goodness for Chrome's incognito mode) and only finding female anatomy, I remembered the Scan the World project. Realizing that there are plenty of nude statues, we visited the Scan the World website and found Statue of a Nude Youth within a few minutes.



Statue of a nude youth, found in an Olympian Zeus temple. This is one of many pieces of art that the Scan the World project has covered. The STL of this statue was used to create a phantom which was then used in radiation therapy research.


By modifying the Statue of a Nude Youth, we were able to create and 3D print our phantom. This homemade phantom has served us well! In addition to using his CT scan to create our first device, we've also used him in some preliminary testing. The data and implications are described in our American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) abstract.



The phantom used in this research project was created by editing and 3D printing the Statue of a Nude Youth file.


Scan the World has made our research possible by providing the Statue of a Nude Youth file. The Scan the World project has now contributed to an idea that could improve cancer treatment for future patients.

3D printing and the maker community have a lot of potential to contribute to the community in meaningful ways such as this! For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, people with 3D printers can help make face shields and mask straps and door handles for local healthcare providers!



Thank you to Karissa and Trevor, and to all those who continue to work hard to combat this deadly disease. The wonders of 3D printing never cease to amaze us and it is such an honor to know that our platform and Scan the World are able to assist in this research to save lives.

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