After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and undergoing a mastectomy, Fay Cobbett decided to forego reconstructive surgery. But she struggled with the alternative: uncomfortable, generic silicone bra inserts.
Cobbett’s partner, Tim Carr, wanted to make things better for her. Carr leveraged his problem-solving abilities and 3D-printing background to create a comfortable, affordable breast prosthesis. He launched the New Zealand–based myReflection company in February 2019.
“myReflection is about reconciling the person they see in the mirror with the person they see in their mind’s eye,” Carr says. This was the inspiration for the company’s name as well as its vision: a perfectly fitted, tailor-made prosthesis reflecting a woman’s own form.
“We found that when something’s not just an off-the-shelf product but designed for you and from you, it becomes an extension of self,” says Jason Barnett, chief technology officer and head of myReflection’s research and development.
Learning from Cobbett’s experience, Carr and Barnett concluded that the current options were too heavy, and their flat backs could cause nerve pain and put uneven pressure on the body. To solve these problems, they developed a lightweight, custom-fit model with a soft inner core designed to mold to the body without gaps or pressure points, as well as an ISO-certified, skin-safe, silicone outer shell.
“Ours matches the undulations of what’s been removed, putting even pressure across the surface of the body,” Barnett says. “It’s one-to-one sizing, and when women wear it, it’s indistinguishable from their body.”
To make its prosthesis more affordable, myReflection turned to 3D printing. “It’s the most appropriate technology for fast and cost-effective production,” Barnett says. “You need its automation mixed with the ability to produce a customized part at traditional mass-manufacturing prices.”
Creating the prosthesis starts with a 3D-scanning process that takes hundreds of postmastectomy images of a woman’s chest wall and torso. The team initially used high-end 3D-scanning systems but then realized that would slow down the process and cost more.
“We didn’t need the high-quality scan resulting from a traditional handheld scanner,” Barnett says. “We could achieve that through photogrammetry.”
Using photogrammetry and Autodesk Meshmixer, frames from the images are meshed together to build a 3D model of the torso. A 3D printer then makes the mold from that digital model, and the custom prosthesis is manufactured. Before production, the 3D-printed mold is test-fitted to ensure the correct form and to check for any alterations.
Perfecting the process took more than a year of research and development, consultations with industry professionals, a fridge-size box of failed prototypes and test pieces, and a lot of trial and error. “We experienced difficulties in every step of the process,” Barnett says. “Developing the actual prosthesis required a huge amount of time and refinement to make sure it would generate the correct result.”
But the team wasn’t fazed by these failures and continued striving for the best—“just good enough” in this case wasn’t good enough. “It took three completely different processes to produce the final product,” Barnett says. “We did comparative testing until we worked out what generates the cheapest, fastest, and most reliable result. A lot of the specifics required us to try first and see what happened. It came from experience rather than just knowing the answer.”
The team’s efforts paid off in overcoming those challenges. “In the beginning, it was all about helping Fay,” Barnett says. “But seeing the positive impact it had on her, we realized we needed to do this for everyone.”
Officially launched in February 2019, myReflection has received an overwhelming response. “We’ve been inundated with requests for custom prostheses,” Carr says. “Within a month after launch, we had 300 women asking when they can get theirs, so we’ve had a strong focus on scaling up to meet demand.”
The company currently offers a four-year subscription service for NZ$613 (about $400). Eligible clients can use New Zealand’s breast-prosthesis subsidy to cover that entire payment. The subscription includes a 3D scan and four prostheses (two initially and two more any time within four years). Rescanning is available within this time frame at an added cost for adjusting to changes that could affect the prosthesis.
In the coming year, myReflection plans to make its prostheses available to women across Australia, Canada, the UK, and eventually the United States. The company is also looking into other use cases for its technology—from improving socket interfaces for prosthetic limbs to redesigning respirators.
“The technology we’ve developed is translatable,” Barnett says. “It can apply to human-material interfaces, leveraging the 3D scanning, 3D printing, and material science we’ve developed for the prostheses.”
Beyond the technology, the company’s main goal is to make a difference in women’s lives. “The greater impact of myReflection is in the sense of self that I see when someone owns their custom prosthesis. It’s not a B cup or a C cup, but a ‘you’ cup,” Carr says.
“We’ve seen women develop a strong personal connection with the prosthesis to the point where they feel it’s part of them,” Barnett adds. “The feedback we get is the absolute driving force behind why we do this.”