3D modeling lab helps personalize and improve cancer reconstructive surgery

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3D printing is improving functional and cosmetic treatment outcomes for patients with difficult-to-treat head and neck cancers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

Since 2021, the OSUCCC – James has used this approach in the surgery planning and treatment of more than 200 patients with complex head and neck cancer surgeries impacting the jaw.

Head and neck cancer surgeries that impact the jaw are especially delicate and precise, said Kyle VanKoevering, MD, a head and neck surgeon at the OSUCCC – James and clinical director of the Medical Modeling, Materials and Manufacturing Lab (M4 Lab) a partnership of the OSUCCC – James and the Ohio State University College of Engineering.

“We want to make sure our patients can talk, chew, eat, swallow, breathe normally and function normally as much as possible after surgery,” said VanKoevering. “As a surgeon, I've trained over the years to take all of these two-dimensional pictures and mentally create a 3D roadmap in my head about where all of this anatomy and the tumor are located. To actually see that come together in a real 3D model is incredible because it is not only a guide to use in the operating room, but also an important educational tool for our residents and patients.”

The M4 lab is a unique collaborative initiative through which engineers and surgeons work together to create custom 3D anatomical models based on a patient’s collective 2D and 3D imaging tests to guide medical interventions.

The resulting personalized 3D model of a patient’s specific anatomy aids in visualizing and planning surgery. For jaw reconstruction specifically, experts combine and layer MRI and CT scans through specialized computer software, and then use a 3D printer to create an exact anatomical model of the patient’s physical skull. Doctors can use the model during surgery to precisely remove critical portions of the jawbone affected by cancer and minimize unnecessary nerve or tissue damage that could impact function after surgery. The approach has been especially helpful to use as a guide for shaping another piece of bone taken from the patient, typically from the leg or arm, to replace the bone affected by cancer.

“We're seeing that the bone grafts we bring in heal better, have less likelihood of fracture and lower rates of infection in the long run, which is going to improve the outcomes for our patients,” said VanKoevering, who also serves as an associate professor in the Ohio State College of Medicine.

To learn more about the M4 lab, visit cdme.osu.edu/m4. 

by Amanda Harper, OSUCCC – James

Category: Research