Last year, Leeds Hospitals Charity supported Rachael Jablonski with a £25,000 grant for a 3D facial scanner, colour matching equipment and specialised computer software so she can carry out her three-year research project.

Supported by an NIHR Doctoral Fellowship, Rachael is taking a break from her Specialty Training in Restorative Dentistry at the Leeds Dental Institute to complete an extensive research study into the use of digital technology for producing facial prostheses. It is hoped the project will benefit patients with head and neck cancer who require surgery to remove tumours from the face.

Head and neck cancer is the 8th most common cancer in the UK and more than 12,000 people are diagnosed every year, with around half of patients requiring some sort of facial surgery as treatment.

Usually, facial prostheses require many hours of highly skilled work to recreate the fine detail by hand. The process can be claustrophobic for patients and the prostheses have to be regularly replaced.

Rachael’s work using innovative technology will design prostheses based on photographs of patients from before their surgery. This aims to speed up the process and produce a prosthesis that is as close as possible to the original lost tissue. This could have huge benefits for the patient and should mean greater confidence and a quicker rehabilitation process.

Rachael said “I’m really grateful for the funding from the charity which has allowed me to purchase vital equipment for this project. I look forward to publishing the work and I hope it will have huge benefits for patients.”

With another two years of her PhD to go, Rachael is already making huge progress and hopes the technology could be rolled out more widely, providing better clinical outcomes for patients and improved efficiencies for the hospitals providing care.