LSU student 3D prints first full ‘human’ for radiation therapy research

3D-printed phantom

A 3D-printed “human” has been conceived to help optimize dose distribution during radiation therapy. At just over five feet tall and weighing 15 pounds, Marie is the offspring of the Phantom Project, spearheaded by LSU Biological and Agricultural Engineering senior Meagan Moore.

The first 3D-printed human-sized body designed for radiation therapy research, according to a press release from LSU (Baton Rouge, LA), Marie costs a fraction of so-called phantoms that are currently used for testing and more accurately reflects diverse, real-world body types.

“Phantoms have been used in medical and health physics for decades as surrogates for human tissue,” said Moore in the LSU press release. “The issue is that most dosimetric models are currently made from a standard, when people of all body types get cancer. No personalized full-body phantoms currently exist.”

While current phantoms cost $40,000, have no limbs and don’t represent every body type, Marie represents an entire human body that is more realistic and only costs $500 to produce.

Moore used 3D scans of five different women to develop a lifelike female phantom made of bioplastic that can be filled with water to establish varying density similar to a patient. “I specifically wanted to work with a woman because, in science, women typically aren’t studied because they’re considered complex due to a variety of reasons,” Moore said. “I want a person with the most complex geometry.”

It took 136 hours to print Marie in four sections on LSU’s BigRep printer. To connect the sections, Moore used a combination of soldering, friction stir welding, and sandblasting, explains the press release.

To test the 3D-printed phantom on multi-million-dollar equipment, multiple water tests first had to be conducted. During each test, 36 gallons of water were poured into Marie to see if she could hold that weight for 4 1/2 hours. Moore then improvised by using a PVC pipe to catch the “dribbles” that were coming out of some areas.

“This process always makes me nervous, but I know it won’t burst because it has roofing sealant covering it,” Moore said. “The way Marie is shaped also helps.”

In October of last year, Moore brought Marie to the UW Medical Cyclotron Facility in Seattle, where researchers were interested in using her to test fast neutron therapy, a powerful form of external-beam radiation therapy used to treat tumors that are hard to kill using X-ray radiation therapy.

Moore hopes that personalized replicas of Marie will be created and used in the medical field to more precisely treat cancer patients. “What I’d like to see for this project is the research to be used as foundational work to personalize cancer treatments for people with more complex treatments,” Moore said. “Children and breast cancer patients have really differing morphology that is usually very difficult to treat. I find that the more we learn about any body, the more complex it’s going to be. We’re still getting medicine wrong on a lot of levels. We have a lot to learn.”

Image courtesy LSU.

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