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3D printing advances cancer treatment on Sunshine Coast

A revolutionary technology is being used to enhance cancer treatment at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital.

Director for Radiation Therapy David Willis and his team have been busy testing a specialised 3D printer and software funded by Wishlist to the tune of $30,000, thanks to the Queensland Gambling Community Benefit Fund.

The printer and software is helping radiotherapists print personalised devices for patients who are undergoing radiation for skin cancer.

“No two cancer patients are the same, so radiation therapy must be tailored to the individual,” Mr Willis said.

Photo: Director for Radiation Therapy David Willis with radiotherapists Katelyn Cahill and Marshall Hoozer.

“For skin cancers and shallow tumours, Doctors sometimes prescribe a skin covering to manipulate the beams during each treatment session. The size, shape and thickness of that covering depends on what the patient needs”

Currently, radiotherapists manually sculpt thermo-plastic sheeting or a type of beaded material onto a patient, which is time-consuming and may be uncomfortable.

“The thermo-plastic sheeting is about $145 a kilogram and you end up with a lot of waste. What we are printing at the moment is $50 a kilogram – it is also less labour intensive and is very precise.”

“The printer relies on very clever software which is part of what we got from Wishlist. It takes information from a patient’s CT scan or from other scanning we do and converts that into something we can use during the treatment. That also means that we aren’t making things directly on the patient, meaning more comfort and a bit less time in the department.

“It is really quite novel and we wouldn’t be able to do half the things we can do without the software.”

While the printer and software has been in its ‘test phase’ since delivery late last year, the team hope for the printer to be fully operational for patient treatment by March.

Other departments in the hospital and other cancer centres are also looking to the Adem Crosby Centre team to learn from their successes.

Wishlist CEO Lisa Rowe said Wishlist was proud to fund the innovative project for the benefit of cancer patients across the region.

Photo: Member for Kawana Jarrod Bleijie with Wishlist’s Bianca Keegan and Director for Radiation Therapy David Willis.

“This technology will specifically help patients with skin cancer or those needing radiation to scars or nodes beneath the skin,” Ms Rowe said.

“We have also been told that the type of software the team are using is a first for Queensland which is very exciting, and there are only three or four nationally.”

You can help fund innovative medical projects too. Donate today at wishlist.org.au.

FUN FACTS:

  • 3D printing is a French invention with the first patent registered for the game-changing technology in 1984.
  • The material (filament) used in the SCUH 3D printer is the same type used to make Lego.
  • It is also very lightweight.
  • Devices printed by the SCUH team often take between three and 10 hours to print.
  • 3D printing is changing healthcare. Surgeons overseas has now ‘bioprinting’ living tissue.