This week, an international team of researchers reported how they have used computer-aided design (or CAD) to build a precise mould that can aid breast reconstruction in cancer patients.
Publishing in the journal Biofabrication, the team took laser scans of healthy breasts and then used CAD software to produce a tailor-made scaffold in silicon. So far this model has only been used by surgeons as a visual guide for reconstruction operations. But the researchers hope that, very soon, this 3D scaffold can be used in combination with tissue engineering.
Lead author, Professor Dietmar Hutmacher from the Queensland University of Technology, hopes to use this CAD model as a scaffold for the patient’s own cells to grow through, meaning that a purpose-grown implant can be placed back into the patient. The end result would be a new breast, made of the patient’s own tissue that is perfectly symmetrical to the original.
The study also examined how satisfied the patients were following the operations where surgeons used this 3D model solely as a visual guide. The patients did indeed report a higher degree of satisfaction with the end result than those patients whose surgeons used more traditional methods – i.e. pen and paper. So if tissue engineering takes off, this technology could lessen the impact of mastectomy and can be extended to other applications where tissue needs to be replaced with accuracy.