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3D printing research at the University of East Anglia: Tailor-made solutions for breast reconstruction

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) are investigating the use of 3D printing technology for breast reconstruction following cancer surgery. The project aims to develop personalized surgical tools and biodegradable implants.

A research team led by Professor Sheng Qi is using 3D scanners to capture the shape of patients’ breasts before surgery. Based on this data, individualized moulds are produced using 3D printing. These molds serve as a measuring instrument for the volume and shape of the patient’s own tissue during reconstruction.

At the same time, the scientists are working on personalized implants for breast-conserving operations. This involves using MRI data from patients to create an exact 3D model. The implant is printed from a biodegradable polymer and inserted during the operation. It is then filled with the patient’s own tissue and dissolves over time.

Ken Tam, PhD student at UEA, emphasizes the importance of the individualized approach: “The use of 3D scanning and printing can support surgeons in their work. The technology has already proven its worth in orthopaedic surgery. Plastic surgery has not yet fully exploited its potential.”

Professor Qi sees 3D printing technology as an important driver for the further development of personalized medicine. She expects these approaches to become more widely available in the next 5-10 years.

Another advantage of the technology is the reduction in corrective surgery. Conventional breast reconstructions often require several procedures to achieve a satisfactory result. The personalized moulds should improve the accuracy of the first operation and thus minimize follow-up procedures.

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