CAD improves reconstructive surgery for cancer patients

Computer-aided design is being employed to aid breast tissue reconstruction for cancer patients.

In a study published today in Biofabrication, researchers used computer-aided design (CAD) to create a mould of a breast that was used as a visual aid to surgeons in tissue reconstruction operations.

CAD was also used to design and produce patient-specific physical scaffolds that could potentially be used in conjunction with tissue engineering.

According to a statement, patients’ own cells could, in theory, be harnessed and grown onto the highly specific scaffold and then transferred to the affected area, avoiding the need to transfer tissue from other parts of the body.

Study co-author Prof Dietmar Hutmacher said: ‘We would take a laser scan of the healthy breast and use the CAD modelling process to design a patient-specific scaffold in silico. We would then produce a scaffold of very high porosity and load it with the patient’s own cells in combination with a hydrogel. The construct would then be implanted.’

CAD — the use of computer technology in the process of design — is claimed to hold several advantages over traditional pen and paper approaches, including the ability to work to full scale, examine the design from all angles and to maintain absolute accuracy.

After informed consent, 3D laser scanning was performed on three female patients who suffered from breast cancer. The images were then fed into CAD software that produced a single image representing the patient’s breast and surrounding thorax region.

This image was then ‘printed’ to form a 3D mould, which was used as an operative aid for surgeons who performed autologous tissue reconstructions — the transferring of tissue from another part of the patient’s body — on each of the patients.

After each of the operations, the surgeons observed a more perfect shape with a higher degree of symmetry between the breasts, while, more importantly, the patients reported a higher satisfaction with the surgery outcomes than the control group did, again with respect to the shape and symmetry of their breasts.

The long-term aim of the study, however, was the development of a material that could be used in tissue engineering and it showed that CAD could be an effective way of achieving this.

A function was created using the CAD software that enabled the creation of a mould for any scanned tissue with the ability to independently tailor the porosity and pore size — a property that is essential to the seeding and diffusing of cells throughout the structure and something that limits modern technologies.

‘The development of a clinically translatable method of engineering adipose tissue for soft-tissue reconstruction requires investigation of several components,’ said Prof Hutmacher.

‘There must be co-ordination between all key aspects of the tissue engineering process, including the selection of cell source, scaffold material, cellular environment and means of device delivery, in order for the engineering of any tissue to be successful.’

Click here to access the full report.