It started as a hobby.
In 2014, Brian Overshiner, a radiation therapist at IU Health Simon Cancer Center, bought himself a 3D printer. He learned to use it over the course of a year for fun, but when a piece of equipment at work broke, he realized its potential in his job.
Overshiner took the broken piece home, 3D-printed an identical replacement and repaired the broken device the next day. “I got on the internet and searched what people were doing with medical 3D printing, and I was blown away,” Overshiner said.
Overshiner has worked diligently over the last five years to create and lead the IU Health 3D Innovations Lab using philanthropic funding. Most recently, IU Health Foundation support allowed Overshiner to hire two Innovations Lab interns. The lab’s goals are using 3D printing to improve patient care, reduce costs and contribute to IU Health innovation efforts.
Across IU Health hospitals and departments, the lab has created custom treatment devices for 62 patients and numerous other projects, with 27 more on deck to complete this year.
One of the first was in Overshiner’s home base of Radiation Oncology. Overshiner recognized that administering a dose of radiation to hit a tumor at the correct depth was problematic due to each patient’s unique body and how it fit with the generic silicon sheet used to cover the patient’s treatment site. Using a patient’s CT scan, Overshiner and the lab created customized, FDA-approved silicon therapy devices that conform to the patient’s specific anatomy like a second skin, ensuring better radiation accuracy.
Overshiner and the team are especially proud of their most recent innovation, Audio Vision Assisted Therapeutic Ambience in Radiotherapy (AVATAR). Young children typically must undergo anesthesia during radiation treatment due to their inability to remain still. The 3D Innovations Lab team realized they could help children avoid anesthesia and reduce radiation treatment cost and time. The team 3D-printed an arm that attaches to the treatment table and holds a screen, thin enough for the radiation beam to pass through, above the child’s face. Using a micro projector, children can watch their favorite shows on the screen during treatment, cutting treatment time in half and greatly reducing costs. In one child’s treatment, AVATAR saved the family over $38,000.
Today, the 3D Innovations Lab is capable of aiding in even more procedures and projects. The team has acquired software that allows it to 3D-print patient-specific anatomical models for surgical planning, complete Computer Aided Designs (CAD), scan parts of patient’s bodies to digitally recreate replicas, and use virtual reality to allow doctors to both examine patients’ scans and practice complex surgeries prior to entering the operating room.
A 3D object also helps patients visualize their treatment. “I’ve had patients say to me, ‘This is the first time in five years of treatment I’ve understood what’s going on,’” said Overshiner.
The Foundation-funded interns are Timothy Nisi, a medical 3D printing technician and Parker Stearns, a computer science undergraduate student at IUPUI, who assist with anatomical modeling workflows and CAD designing. The lab team also includes Paul Yearling, PhD, vice chair of IUPUI’s Mechanical Engineering Technology School and Avinash Mantravadi, MD a surgeon at IU Health and co-director of the Otolaryngology fellowship program at IU School of Medicine. Overshiner hopes to expand the team’s innovators – by approximately 35,000, the number of people who work for IU Health.
Abiding by the motto, “We like ideas,” the team hopes that all IU Health employees collaborate with the lab. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a secretary or a brain surgeon or anybody in between,” Overshiner said. “If you have an idea that would make you job better or make a patient’s life better, we want to be the place that people can go to get their idea prototyped.”
Ultimately, Overshiner hopes the 3D Innovations Lab’s staff will continue to grow and, with that, their access to advanced medical software, technology and education. “Anything you can do to benefit patients here and now, that’s my focus,” he said. “There’s a better way to do this and we should be doing it.”
To donate in support of the Innovations Lab at IU Health, visit iuhealthfoundation.org.