For Shap3D UP, customization in breast prostheses is the norm

january 28, 2019

“The current breast prostheses are like a sort of chicken fillet. And this is your new breast,” Monica Schlösser says. She believes it doesn’t have to be this way. Together with Sjef van der Horst, she started Shap3D UP, the start-up that develops 3D-printed breast prostheses that are tailored to a woman’s body. The “chicken fillets” Schlösser is talking about are external silicone breast prostheses used as an alternative for women who lose a breast after a mastectomy. She says that one standard size is currently being used for everyone. “This is nonsense since no two breasts or scars are the same. How is it possible that with all the technological options we have today women still have so little choice? No two women are alike.”

Material

By making a scan of the breasts or partial breast, a woman can be fitted for a prosthesis that suits her. The start-up is doing research at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus on the best material to use for these 3D-printed prostheses. The types of materials being used will remain a secret for now. One thing is certain however, according to Sjef van der Horst (photo left): “It has to feel like a real breast, not like a brick when someone accidentally bumps into you.” The company wants to launch small batches on the market in a few months.

“Seeing all the possibilities the current technology is capable of, particularly for medical applications, makes me really happy. There are foot prostheses with ankle joints that rotate like a real joint, leg prostheses that athletes can wear during training. These days, missing a body part no longer has to mean you’re hindered in your day-to-day life. So why should this be the case with breast prostheses?” Schlösser (photo right) says in explaining what motivates her.

Ecosystem

Shap3D UP is receiving support from the partners at the Campus in Geleen, but the company is now also in contact with the Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus. The start-up is part of the Brightlands Innovation Factory incubator program. The expertise of the Brightlands Material Center in Geleen is also needed. Schlösser and Van der Horst also work closely with the Chemelot Innovation Learning Labs (CHILL) where students from the Zuyd University of Applied Sciences are helping them find the right material for the prostheses. Applied Science students from the Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Eindhoven are studying the 3D printability of various materials. Maastricht University students are studying the opportunities for crowdfunding.

Van der Horst: “We are doing all sorts of tests now. Which material lends itself well to printing? How does it feel? Is it comfortable for women? Printing is done in layers, so you look for a combination of materials that are sturdy, but also soft, just like real breasts.”

The current prostheses on the market are made of silicone. “This is not a pleasant material to have against your skin,” Schlösser says.

“The prostheses get really warm, which leads to perspiration or they get really sticky during warm weather. Many women suffer from skin irritation as a result. They also don’t stay in place well and are heavy, causing bra straps to dig into the skin. The current versions just aren’t comfortable.”

Experience

In addition to offering women a more comfortable product, the Shap3D UP founders want to make it easier to talk about prostheses. Schlösser realized that this is still an emotionally charged subject when she found out she was in the early stages of breast cancer. “The tests, the waiting. It’s a very stressful period. Fortunately, I was able to have breast-conserving surgery. But I did come in contact with so many other women who weren’t as fortunate. They have to lose a very familiar part of their bodies which is very defining for their new self-image. Most women aren’t going to shout from the rooftops that they are wearing a prosthesis. It makes them insecure. I want to make sure that they can go out in the world again with self-confidence.” Monica Schlösser was convinced that her idea was a good one, and she wanted to turn this idea into a company. Joining forces with Sjef van der Horst and his experience with 3D printing meant she also had the technical knowledge she needed.

Cosmetics

Measuring a woman for a breast prosthesis is currently done in special lingerie shops, and it is viewed as a medical aid. According to Schlösser, it would be better to view it as a cosmetic aid that women can purchase without limitations. “Once the period of medical treatment is over, women just want to get on with their lives. It would be great if they had control over when and how they order their new prosthesis. This is why we are working on an app where women can scan their breasts in the privacy of their own environment.”

Monica Schlösser sees a future with different types of prostheses, such as one with a tattoo, one without straps to wear under a strapless dress or a prosthesis to be worn while swimming. “It would be great if in a few years women are no longer dependent on a single prosthesis, but have the choice of four or five different ones. I want to make this happen.”

(Source: this article is an edited version of an article from Innovation Origins, an independent news platform and Brightlands partner: www.innovationorigins.com).

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