It’s still early days for 3D printing in health applications but advances are coming fast. We’ve written about 3D printed prosthetics for hands and arms, orthotics, teeth, and cranial bones for a child. A 68-year-old man from Indiana now has a lower face thanks to the collaboration between the Indiana School of Dentistry, the School of Informatics and Computing, School of Engineering and Technology, and the Herron School of Art and Design to develop a new digital protocol to create facial prostheses.
The subject for the project is a retired maintenance worker named Shirley Anderson, who had recurring tongue cancer. Radiation treatments resulted in osteoradionecrosis, also known as “bone death.” Anderson had his Adam’s apple and mandible removed, leaving him without a chin. He breathes via tracheotomy and is fed via a tube in his stomach. Early reconstruction attempts with bone and titanium failed, Dr. Travis Bellicchi took over the case. He is a second-year maxillofacial prosthodontics resident in the IU School of Dentistry at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis who bridges restorative dental and medical specialists.
“My training allows me to provide prostheses when surgical intervention or reconstructions are insufficient to provide a good aesthetic or a functional result,” Bellicchi said. “Then I come in and make something out of silicone or acrylic resin that would restore function or, in this case, aesthetics.” In Anderson’s case, Bellicchi embarked on a series of digital/analog steps to create a mold, which was for then used to fabricate a feather-edged prosthesis. The work is ongoing and not yet fully digital. When the digital protocol is finished, Bellicchi and his team, with Anderson’s permission, already have a name for it: The IU Shirley Technique.