First-of-its-kind service globally to improve quality of life for survivors of breast cancer.
A unique project is creating bespoke breast prostheses for women post-mastectomy using state of the art digital manufacturing in Limerick.
The new pilot service is the result of a successful collaboration between the Rapid Innovation Unit at University of Limerick (UL), the Symptomatic Breast Care Unit at University Hospital Limerick (UHL), and the Mater Private Network’s Mid-Western Radiation Oncology Centre.
It is a first of its kind service globally using 3D scanning and printing to improve the quality of life for survivors of breast cancer.
The pilot project, which was awarded funding through the Public Service Innovation Fund by Our Public Service and the Department of Public Expenditure NDP Delivery and Reform, will be officially launched at an event in UHL on Wednesday, May 17.
The pilot service will allow women who have undergone a complete mastectomy to avail of bespoke prostheses produced onsite at the point of care.
Working collaboratively, Dr. Kevin J O’Sullivan, Senior Research Fellow at UL’s Rapid Innovation Unit, Mr. Chwanrow Baban, Senior Lecturer and Module Lead for Surgery at UL and Consultant General and Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon at UHL’s Symptomatic Breast Cancer Unit and Dr. Lorraine Walsh, Consultant Radiation Oncologist at Mater Private Network’s Mid-Western Radiation Oncology Centre and Associate Clinical Lecturer Radiation Oncology at UL, developed a bespoke, 3D printed breast prosthesis that is suitable for production on site.
As well as creating a better experience for women who have had a mastectomy, the bespoke prostheses can be produced for a fraction of the cost of current commercial solutions.
Dr. O’Sullivan, a senior research fellow at UL and lead on the project, said there was ‘significant limitations’ to existing, standard breast prostheses.
‘The ability to provide bespoke prostheses, regardless of shape and size, to perfectly match the residual breast is a significant improvement over the current standard of care for women who have undergone a mastectomy,’ Dr. O’Sullivan explained.
‘There is a need for a renewed focus on quality of life and the application of user-centric design to develop innovative solutions for these patients. We have an incredibly talented PhD researcher, EmmaJude Lyons, who is funded by Breakthrough Cancer Research, who has taken this project from concept to advanced prototypes in a few short months,’ he added.
Mr. Baban, Consultant General and Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon at UHL’s Symptomatic Breast Cancer Unit, said: ‘This service is a gamechanger for women who have had a mastectomy and who choose not to, or who are not suitable for, breast reconstruction. Available options for prosthesis are not always the best fit for our patients and this exciting project is all about improving the quality-of-life for women post-mastectomy.’
‘The Symptomatic Breast Unit at UHL is strong on clinical innovation that improves outcomes for our patients. We are delighted to team up with our partners on this pioneering work. This is the first service of its kind in Ireland, and we are not aware of another breast service in the world that is offering this to women.’
Dr. Lorraine Walsh, Consultant Radiation Oncologist, Mater Private Network Mid-Western Radiation Oncology Centre, said: ‘So many women are diagnosed with breast cancer here in Ireland each year and where mastectomy is often a vital route when delivering lifesaving treatment, I am keenly aware that such alterations can significantly affect women’s self-esteem post-treatment.’
‘At Mater Private Network Mid-Western Radiation Oncology Centre here in Limerick, we seek to deliver the highest quality of patient cancer care but also to enhance survivors’ quality of life after treatment. This was our north star driving our innovations for the 3D Breast Prostheses pilot scheme.’
‘We are thrilled to be able to facilitate this service in partnership with University of Limerick and University Hospital Limerick and we look forward to delivering tailored prosthesis solutions for women across Ireland.’
Orla Dolan, CEO of Breakthrough Cancer Research, added: ‘It is fantastic to support new ideas and emerging talent who are actively responding to the unmet needs of people with cancer. We are so excited to see this pilot project expanding to the benefit of more people right at the point of care.’
The Rapid Innovation Unit, a collaborative research group between UL and University Limerick Hospital Group, has extensive experience in the use of 3D printing at the point of care.
The team of experienced design researchers in the Rapid Innovation Unit have been working across the UL Hospitals Group for some time to deploy state of the art digital manufacturing to rapidly address patient specific needs in the clinical setting.
Among the bespoke devices made within hours for specific patient needs are devices for treating hypergranulation, patient accessories such as modified crutches, an articulated headrest accessory, bespoke eye covers, modified cutlery for arthritis sufferers and call bells for patients with reduced mobility.
Dr. O’Sullivan explained: ‘The work we are doing across the UL Hospitals Group is incredibly rewarding, we see time and time again how the ‘one size fits most’ approach is severely lacking to treat some of the most deserving patients.’
‘The application of digital manufacturing allows us to address needs that may only be specific to one individual patient, but that have a huge impact on quality of life.’
‘Solving these individual problems on the ground allows us to build the research needed to translate solutions to the wider patient population,’ Dr. O’Sullivan added.