Man with Facial Deformities Has New Face “Printed”

Surgeons in the U.K. recently announced that they had used 3D printing to reconstruct the face of a man who had suffered extensive facial injuries following a motorcycle accident.

For readers not familiar with the process, 3D printing makes it possible to “print” or create 3D objects from nylon, metal and hundreds of other materials. Although the technology has existed since the 1980s, it gained wider use and recognition in 2010 when 3D printers became commercially available. Last year, the technology gained world-wide notoriety when an Arkansas inventor used 3D printing to print a gun.

3D Printing Medical Applications: Brave New World

The 3D printer has been used in other medical applications, including in a case where an Ohio doctor used the technology to create a lifesaving artificial airway for an infant born without a trachea. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to adopt an official policy on  3D printing for medical devices and biomedical use, but it is being pushed hard by the medical community to do so as envisioned applications offer new hope for a wide array of medical breakthroughs, including creating entirely new organs and tissues (kidney transplants, for example), grafting artificial skin for burn injuries as opposed to using painful skin grafting techniques which involve removing healthy skin from elsewhere on a burn patient’s body for transplantation onto injured areas, making prostheses such as arms, legs, ears, etc.—just to name a few amazing possibilities.

Printing a New Face

In the case of the UK motorcycle victim—Mr. Powers—surgeons had already performed lifesaving emergency surgery on him following the accident. His extensive injures included fractures of both arms, his right leg, both cheekbones, both eye sockets, his upper jaw and his skull. The surgeons repaired what they could of his facial injuries but could not fully reconstruct Mr. Powers’ eye socket for fear that the procedure might further damage his already-compromised sight..

After his eyesight had recovered, surgeons operated once again but despite their best efforts, Mr. Powers was left with a distorted face. His left cheekbone was not quite aligned with his right, and his left eye sunk in further than his right. The surgeons reconvened and decided to use 3D technology to restore symmetry to Mr. Powers’ face.

They scanned 3D images of his face and designed guides to show them where to cut and reposition the facial bones and to insert the implants for holding the bones in place. The models, guides and implants were all created through 3D printing. Without 3D printing, Dr. Sugar, head of the surgical team, said they would have had to do all of their work “freehand” and make best guesses as to how to position the bones and put them back together with the implants.

The surgical team is extremely pleased with the results. And Mr. Powers? He has stopped wearing the glasses he had been using to disguise his facial deformity. Mr. Powers gave the surgical results a 9 out of 10. Dr. Sugar said he’s glad that Mr. Powers didn’t give the surgery a 10 as his operation has just opened the door for using and perfecting 3D technology for other surgeries and medical applications.

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